All societies have rules, values, and symbols that set them apart from others. That is why we say that different societies have different cultures. And when it comes to studying cultural differences, it is impossible not to mention Gerard Hendrik Hofstede. He was the researcher who developed the model of the five cultural dimensions.
Hofstede showed that people have regional and national characteristics. He also demonstrated that these properties remain stable over time and influence their behavior. He called these cultural patterns cultural dimensions.
The five cultural dimensions are power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, avoidance of uncertainty and long-term perspective vs. normative short-term perspective. Every cultural dimension has two sides. A society can have a high or low value in any dimension, which leads to different characteristics and behaviors.
Power distance in different societies
Power distance is the way a society deals with the power of its institutions and organizations. Countries with a short power distance are usually organized in a decentralized manner. On the other hand, in countries with great power distance there is usually a central authority.
This dimension is also about how those members of society who have the least power accept that higher power and whether they expect power to be more evenly distributed. Basically, it is about how a society addresses the inequality between the power of its members.
People in societies with great power distance accept the hierarchical order. It is okay with them that everyone has their place and no explanation is required. In societies with a small power distance, however, people try to shape the distribution of power on an equal footing. When there are inequalities in terms of power, they demand justification.
Examples of countries with high power distance are Malaysia, Guatemala and Panama, compared to countries like Austria, Denmark and Israel.
Individualism vs. Collectivism
With regard to this dimension, we can define individualism as a preference for an unstructured social environment. People primarily take care of themselves. Collectivism means the opposite, means that there is a preference for a strongly structured social environment. Here, people don’t have to worry that their relatives or members of their family are not looking after them. In return, absolute loyalty is required.
We see the differences between these two dimensions when we look at people’s self-image: some define themselves as an “I” while the other see themselves as “we”.
Individualism and collectivism are at the same time those cultural dimensions that let us see how much citizens value their independence and how important it is to them to obey social rules and to be loyal to their group. Individualistic people take care of themselves, value personal success and independence highly, and put their own interests first – sometimes beyond the rules of society. In contrast, collective people have a strong feeling of being part of a group. Collective interests are more important than personal goals, and relationships with other people are very important.
According to studies on this dimension, the most individualistic countries are the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Very collective countries are Japan, China and Panama.
Masculinity vs. Femininity
Masculinity means that a society is geared towards achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material rewards for success. Such societies are more competitive than those dominated by femininity. Femininity means increased cooperation, humility, concern for the weaker and quality of life. Such societies value the consensus higher. Due to the characteristics mentioned and their independence from gender, the terms “hard cultures” and “soft cultures” are sometimes used.
The term “masculinity” has to do with a society in which gender roles are clearly distributed. Men should be determined, tough and successful, women humble, sensitive and caring. The term “femininity”, on the other hand, describes societies in which gender roles are fluid. In such societies, both men and women may have the characters described above.
In this sense, Japan, Hungary and Austria belong to the masculine countries. Sweden, Norway and Holland are very feminine countries.
Uncertainty avoidance is the dimension that shows how well people in a society can deal with uncertainty or ambiguity. The main issue here is how a society responds to the fact that the future is always uncertain. Should you try to control the future or just let things take their course?
Societies with high uncertainty avoidance have very strict rules for how their members are allowed to think and act. These societies do not accept behavior or thoughts that are outside of these rules. In this respect, societies with low uncertainty avoidance are much more relaxed. Pragmatism is much more important to them than principles.
A low value in this dimension shows that the people in a country are more self-motivated and more willing to take risks, but also less independent. Countries with a high uncertainty avoidance index look very different: in them, stability, rules and social norms count. Therefore, they try to minimize risks as much as possible – which in turn carries another risk, namely that of slower progress.
The countries with the highest uncertainty avoidance value are Greece, Portugal and Guatemala. Countries with a low index are Denmark, Jamaica, and Singapore.
Long-term orientation vs. normative short-term orientation
All societies have to maintain a bond with their past and at the same time deal with the challenges of the present and the future. But different societies usually assign very different priorities to these two goals. Short-term oriented societies generally try to preserve their well-kept traditions and rules. They are rather suspicious of social changes. On the other hand, societies with a long-term orientation are much more practical. They try much harder to invest in modern education. They do this because they see it as a way to prepare for the future.
Long-term orientation therefore focuses on values associated with future benefits. People are willing to put aside social success or even emotional satisfaction for a short time in order to prepare for the future. Societies with this cultural attitude value perseverance, perseverance, thrift and adaptability.
Normative short-term orientation focuses on the past and present and understands these as more important than the future. A society with a short-term orientation values traditions, existing social hierarchies and the fulfillment of social obligations. Immediate satisfaction is more important than long-term satisfaction in these societies.
The countries with the highest long-term orientation are China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Venezuela, Uruguay and the United Arab Emirates are most strongly short-term oriented.
What kind of country do you live in?
Maybe now you want to find out the values of your country. Well, Hofstede has launched this English-language site where you can look up and compare your situation with that of others. But even if a country scores high on certain cultural dimensions, that doesn’t mean that every citizen does. Individuals can always differ from their group – that is, they could achieve completely different values with these cultural dimensions.