November 29, 2005

Cultural Dimensions

Culture is one of those nebulous terms that are hard to define. We know it when we see it, but we don't know how to describe it. Thankfully, Dutch theorist Geert Hofstede has been thinking about cultures for a long time and has formulated five dimensions along which to measure various cultures. They are as follows (quoting from his helpful website):

  1. Power Distance Index (PDI) focuses on the degree of equality, or inequality, between people in the country's society. A High Power Distance ranking indicates that inequalities of power and wealth have been allowed to grow within the society. These societies are more likely to follow a caste system that does not allow significant upward mobility of its citizens. A Low Power Distance ranking indicates the society de-emphasizes the differences between citizen's power and wealth. In these societies equality and opportunity for everyone is stressed.

  2. Individualism (IDV) focuses on the degree the society reinforces individual or collective achievement and interpersonal relationships. A High Individualism ranking indicates that individuality and individual rights are paramount within the society. Individuals in these societies may tend to form a larger number of looser relationships. A Low Individualism ranking typifies societies of a more collectivist nature with close ties between individuals. These cultures reinforce extended families and collectives where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group.

  3. Masculinity (MAS) focuses on the degree the society reinforces, or does not reinforce, the traditional masculine work role model of male achievement, control, and power. A High Masculinity ranking indicates the country experiences a high degree of gender differentiation. In these cultures, males dominate a significant portion of the society and power structure, with females being controlled by male domination. A Low Masculinity ranking indicates the country has a low level of differentiation and discrimination between genders. In these cultures, females are treated equally to males in all aspects of the society.

  4. Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) focuses on the level of tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity within the society - i.e. unstructured situations. A High Uncertainty Avoidance ranking indicates the country has a low tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. This creates a rule-oriented society that institutes laws, rules, regulations, and controls in order to reduce the amount of uncertainty. A Low Uncertainty Avoidance ranking indicates the country has less concern about ambiguity and uncertainty and has more tolerance for a variety of opinions. This is reflected in a society that is less rule-oriented, more readily accepts change, and takes more and greater risks.

  5. Long-Term Orientation (LTO) focuses on the degree the society embraces, or does not embrace, long-term devotion to traditional, forward thinking values. High Long-Term Orientation ranking indicates the country prescribes to the values of long-term commitments and respect for tradition. This is thought to support a strong work ethic where long-term rewards are expected as a result of today's hard work. However, business may take longer to develop in this society, particularly for an "outsider". A Low Long-Term Orientation ranking indicates the country does not reinforce the concept of long-term, traditional orientation. In this culture, change can occur more rapidly as long-term traditions and commitments do not become impediments to change.

Not surprisingly, cultures or nations that we think of as similar in fact are so. For example, the core Anglosphere nations of America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK have extremely similar rankings: relatively low power distance, very high individualism, moderately high masculinity, low uncertainty avoidance, and very low long-term orientation. By contrast, France (and presumably other parts of the Francosphere) has high individualism but also high power distance and even higher uncertainty avoidance. China (and presumably other parts of the Sinosphere) has extremely high long-term orientation and power distance, extremely low individualism, middling masculinity, and lowish uncertainty avoidance. Spain, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and other nations of the Hispanosphere tend to have very high uncertainty avoidance, moderately high power distance, relatively low individualism, and middling masculinity (Portugal and Brazil -- the Lusosphere -- are similar). The other nations of northwestern Europe (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands) share with the Anglosphere high individualism and low power distance but are much lower on masculinity. Places that are sometimes said to have similarities to the core Anglosphere nations may not be as close as some think: India has much higher power distance, much lower individualism, and much higher long-term orientation, the Philippines much higher power distance, much lower individualism, and much lower uncertainty avoidance, whereas Ireland and even South Africa are more similar to the core Anglosphere nations on these dimensions.

(Cross-posted at one small voice.)

Posted by Peter Saint-Andre at November 29, 2005 10:08 PM

It would be interesting to see complex societies like India segmented internally on these values. If educated, English-speaking Indians scored closer to core Anglosphere results than their non-English-speaking compatriots, that would say something about the impact Anglosphere ties in nations with other strong traditions.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at November 29, 2005 11:16 PM

A very interesting link.

India scores higher on Individualism than any non-European country excpet Israel; above Agentina, Japan, Turkey, Hong Kong, Chile, Greece or Portugal.

India may not be a full fledged member of the Anglosphere; but if the rest of the world is to become more Anglospheric, it is the leader showing the way.

Also of interest was China's extremely low Uncertainty Avoidance Index indicating a country that "takes more and greater risks." The Anglosphere countries tend to score very low on this scale also.

Posted by: Richard Heddleson at November 30, 2005 09:11 AM

Really? I thought that one of the hallmarks of the Anglosphere was that it wasn't adverse to risks- at least the with respect to invention and business. Or am I misunderstanding something?

Posted by: xavier at November 30, 2005 11:12 AM

Xavier: you're misunderstanding something. A low measure on Hofstede's Uncertainty Avoidance Index means a high tolerance for risk. Perhaps his terminology is confusing but we can't change that!

Posted by: Peter Saint-Andre at November 30, 2005 11:20 AM

Jim: I agree, it would be interesting to see these measures applied at a more granular level. I'm sure we would find interesting cultural differences within national borders similar to those discovered for trust and strength of civil society (e.g., in American regions). Looking at non-regional sub-populations (such as your English speakers in India or South Africa) would also be of interest. I'll report back if I find that Hofstede has already done that work.

Posted by: Peter Saint-Andre at November 30, 2005 11:25 AM

Very interesting. My own country Singapore is almost a typical Asian nation, with one glaring discrepency - low uncertainty avoidance, which is remarkably low even compared to the rest of the Anglosphere. Probably the legacy of the British bequeathed to us, or extremely successful social engineering by LKY, or both. In any case, I suspect the actual figure to be near Hong Kong's, not single digits!

However, Hofstede's classification of Singapore as a primarily Buddhist/Shinto nation is wrong, and that in turn makes me doubt the rest of his results and conclusions. In fact, his figure of 75% population being Buddhist is so absurdly off that I almost cried.

Posted by: The Wobbly Guy at November 30, 2005 11:28 AM

It would be interesting to see Hofstede's material graphed in a way that would allow comparison with the World Values Survey
( which uses some similar axes (e.g. traditional vs. secular authority, survival vs. well-being). No surprise (by the Anglosphere calculation) that South Africa and Ireland would come out near the Anglosphere countries. Again, subnational stats might suggest some dynamics.

Posted by: james mccormick at November 30, 2005 11:35 AM

It is probably superfluous to point out that all models are models of generality and run into the paradox of generality. That is, all generalizations are wrong; including this one. They are also snapshots taken at a specific time and place; just as Fischer's model in Albion's Seed is a snapshot. However, to the extent that they have explanatory power, they are useful tools.

I have been reading about the Border Reivers of the Scots border and was again struck by how much the tribe/clan/family culture of the area resembled the situation we are finding in Iraq. Imagine my surprise that Banfield's "amoral familism" still holds.

I am also struck by the persistence of the cultural attitudes brought to the New World by the Borderers and the lack of them in the area today. You would be hard pressed to find, Crackers, Rednecks and Hoosiers; all pre-existing terms of the time, in the border counties of Scotland/England today.

I've wondered for years if it was possible to derive a "ductility index" for cultures. the amount of change that can happen without fracture. Some seem to have very low ductility and fall apart under low stress while others seem to have the ability to change and not lose their "indentity". I guess that is why I have always been interested in those that were "pipetted" away at various times and "injected" into others. Shephardic Jews in Brazil, Japanese in Bolivia, Marranos in Mexico and Scots roughnecks in the American hinterlands.

Posted by: M.H. Wood at November 30, 2005 02:04 PM

I suspect the differences between Borderer cultures in the New World and the current sociology of the British Border regiion today may have to do with the cumulative effect of several centuries of Calvinism and other dissenter religions on the population in Britain. Borderers tended to fall away from strict Calvinism in the New World and drift toward revivalist sects with a greater emphasis on the validity of the emotion of repentence and less on the sanctity of day-to-day behavior.

Also, remember that the Borderers had played a game of rgulatory arbitrage across the Border for centuries. After Union took that option away, the least tractable sorts removed themselves first to Ulster, where their fiestiness was still valued, and then to Appalachia, ditto. There was undoubtedly some sortation going on.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at November 30, 2005 02:43 PM

Thanks. Here's a counterindtuitive question: is riskadversity always a negative? When can it be a poitive and are there example of when the Anglopshere got into trouble because of its tolerance for risk taking?


Posted by: xavier at November 30, 2005 06:22 PM

Just a grammatical nitpick.

"Adverse" is not the same word as "averse."

The former means "opposed to." The latter means "desirous to avoid."

No one is "risk adverse." Many are "risk averse."

Posted by: Rand Simberg at November 30, 2005 06:32 PM


Risk aversion was a rational behavior in premodern agriculture. Margins were sufficiently low that risking starvation or depletion of food stores was not worth the potential gain of a successful innovation. When a superior agricultural technology did arrive it often came in the form of immigrating or invading people using that technology, because the local population tended to be so resistant to adopting new techniques.

Thus peasant cultures tended to be highly risk-averse. This was even more so where land ownership or leaseholding tended to be collectively situated in the family rather than in the individual. This is because it was easier for family members to obstruct innovation in land in which they had an interest. Individually-held land in a cash-nexus economy, rather than in a peasant subsistence economy, could afford to take more risks in adopting new techniques.

Excessive risk-taking is a problem when the risks become so hard to quantify that a sizeable number of rational, well-infomed players tend to get killed. In a risk-taking situation, you want the negative consequences to fall primarily on people who pick the wrong option -- not to have negative consequences dealt out randomly. In the latter situation, risk-aversion becomes rational behavior.

Examples in Anglosphere history -- the Donner Party?

Posted by: Jim Bennett at November 30, 2005 10:49 PM


Posted by: dhgjl, at November 30, 2005 11:24 PM

Thanks for the explanation. I'll have to look up the Donner party as I haven,t heard of it before.

I'll have to ask around but I wonder how land tenure systems and the law played a role in Spanish development. I know that in Catalunya the first born- didn't matter if it was a daughter (the pubilla) or a boy- inherited all of the land and the younger kids were supposed to get cash based on a percentage of the land. Of course that was never paid so the younger ones would seek their fortune elsewhere- like my dad's side of the family. 2 brothers went to Valencia and then later to the new World.
By contrast, in Galicia, the land would be subdivided between the inheritors to the point that the land couldn't sustain a family which provoked massive immigration (Cuba, etc)
As for Castile, it has to be divided into Castile proper from Southern Spain.

Of course all this brings me to my next question: can risk averse societies progressively develop into ones that accept some risk even if it,s not at the Anglopsheric levels? I think so but it's usually accompanied by some havoc (Napoleon's invasion of Spain comes to mind)

Posted by: xavier at December 1, 2005 06:38 AM

Almost any society that has made the transition to modernity -- the "exit" -- has increased its ability to accept risk. I suspect that substantial remnants of the risk-averse peasant mentality remain in sectors of many of these societies, which become succeptible to antidemocratic solutions in times of uncertainty and stress.

The problems with mandatory division of land to all children -- "partible inheritance" -- are common in many preindustrial societies. Its efects on Chinese history and culture are one of the key themes in W.J.F. Jenner's Tyranny of History, and he contrasts it to Western Euopean societies where primogeniture was the rule. Typically, partible inheritance leads to an ecological disaster.

Unlike Catalonia, primogeniture worked fairly well in England, in the sense that younger sons did tend to be taken care of, with commissions purchased in the armed forces, or livings endowed in the Church, or a legal education provided for. And given life expectancy and disease/accident/war death tolls, a junior position in a primogeniture-based society was a lottery ticket of some value, although declining the more junior one was. (All this obvviously applies primarily to the upper end of the social scale, where primogeniture was concentrated. However, there was a general bias against subdividing landholdings.) We see primogeniture from the end of its life as a social institution, as it was breaking down and as its function became less valuable. Earlier in history is had served a useful function.

Interesting that Catalonia was closer to the English model, while Galicia was the opposite. This may be a feature of Galicia's Celtic background, as partible inheritance tended to be a feature of Celtic social systems.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at December 1, 2005 10:21 AM

Thanks again. I'll buy a copy of John Elliott,s the Revolt of the Catalans. He devotes a chapter to land tenure I think. I know that within Spain, the catalan primogenture was unique for the peninsula and contemporary observers noted that it contributed much to the region's stability and prosperity. Some had even commented on the institution of the pubilla. I've always been fascinated and curious about it but I haven't found any books or articles that can answer my questions.

Galcia with a Celtic land tenure system? That's very intersting and lends me to another question- did the Celtic descendents (Scottish, Irish and Welsh) migrate their land tenure systems to British North America? I'm thinking of the South and Appalachia principally but was New England in any way shaped by it?

Posted by: xavier at December 1, 2005 11:52 AM

Jim Bennet:

Fischer makes this telling point regarding the concept of "natural liberty" in North Britain. Noting that it, "...was rapidly in the process of decay during the eighteenth century. But in the hour of its extinction, it was carried to the American Back settlements, where conditions conspired to give it new life.", AS, p. 778.

He also notes the persistance of the forms of religiosity brought from the auld country pp. 703-708 which had in itself a paradox of intense hostility to organized churchs but an "abiding interest" in religion.

So, I think the "pippete" theory holds here in that a time slice of a changing culture was transplanted into a new context.

Posted by: M.H. Wood at December 1, 2005 12:10 PM

As I understand the matter Celtic land tenure was pretty much extinguished as a mandatory practice wherever English authority went. However, primogeniture was not mandated either as a matter of general law -- the underlying principle was always the will of the holder.

It could be that hostility to primogeniture was a remnant of Celtic social attitudes. Certainly the rebels of 1776 felt strongly about it.

Catalan exceptionalism within the context of Iberia is interesting. The more you read about it the more you ask "What the hell are these people doing in the Spanish state?"

I understand some number of Catalans have been asking that question, too. :)

Posted by: Jim Bennett at December 1, 2005 03:26 PM

Thanks again. As for the Catalans asking themselves about what are they doing in the Spanish state? That question was definitively settled in 1653 when the Catalans- minus Rosel.lo- returned to Spain after faring French centralism even more. Whether Catalans like it or not we're stuck with Spain so might as well make the best of it. That means the the Castillans and Andulosos will have to moderate their intransigent hedgehog tendencies and give all historial nationalistis a lot more autonomy something like Quebec within Canada.
The current controversy over the new Estatut is more of the same since Olivares. I'm still thinking of how the Catalan politicos could've presented their point across more skilfully that would've impeded the Castilans from freaking out.
Sorry for the digression.
Interesting discussion about land tenure/inheritance systems

Posted by: xavier at December 1, 2005 06:42 PM

Well, in 1653 you had to be part of one big state or another, not having been fortunate to have been on a big island. That's probably not true today/ It's interesting that the Spanish seem to have a big problem with the amount of federalism the US, Canada, or Australia handle routinely. That hedgehog mentality, I guess.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at December 1, 2005 11:02 PM

Hi Jim. Interesting discussion sorry am coming into it late. But I notice that each of these five dimensions involve a POSITIVE DEFINITE measure in the sense that they are all describable on a scale that goes from LOW to HIGH or a scale of 0.0 to 1.0, (as opposed to negative to positive.) I think this affords the opportunity for calculating a single parameter by which to compare many countries and cultures. One can contemplate the tabulation of the DIAMETERS or RADII of any given LINGOSPHERE (the Anglosphere, Francosphere, Hispanosphere,etc.) as a METRIC covering the five dimensions. One could start with a simple Euclidean metric (square root of the sum of the squares of the measure in the five dimensions) or get fancier depending on theoretical considerations. By the way this kind of calculation has already been done on the part of WWW called the BLOGOSPHERE, where some physicists measured the diameter of the blogosphere to be 19 clicks, approximately. The relevance to your considerations is that the smaller this diameter, the more highly connected, in a topological sense, is that SPHERE, which I might leap to metaphor in saying that is equivalent to a kind of cultural density or cohesion or gravity. Shameless Plug to my post on this at Philippine Commentary:
19 Clicks is the Diameter of the Blogosphere

Thanks for a nice read as usual, with the ever-cerebral Anglosphereans. No Blog Is An Island!

Posted by: Rizalist at December 2, 2005 04:03 AM

I remember a nice quip about the Catalans and their 'army': Barcelona FC. Well, they just owned Real Madrid!

Posted by: The Wobbly Guy at December 5, 2005 10:06 AM