1 thought on “World Values Survey (WVS)

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    Findings and Insights

    World Values Survey (WVS)


    Inglehart–Welzel Cultural Map

    The map presents empirical evidence of massive cultural change and the persistence of distinctive cultural traditions. Main thesis holds that socioeconomic development is linked with a broad syndrome of distinctive value orientations. Analysis of WVS data made by political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel asserts that there are two major dimensions of cross cultural variation in the world:

    1) Traditional values versus Secular-rational values and

    2) Survival values versus Self-expression values.

    Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority and traditional family values. People who embrace these values also reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook.
    Secular-rational values have the opposite preferences to the traditional values. These societies place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable. (Suicide is not necessarily more common.)
    Survival values place emphasis on economic and physical security. It is linked with a relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance.
    Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life.
    The two dimensions have been created by running factor analysis over a set of ten indicators. The ten indicators used (five to tap each dimension) were chosen for technical reasons: in order to be able to compare findings across time, we used indicators that had been included in all four waves of the Values Surveys. These ten indicators reflect only a handful of the many beliefs and values that these two dimensions tap, and they are not necessarily the most sensitive indicators of these dimensions. They do a good job of tapping two extremely important dimensions of cross-cultural variation, but we should bear in mind that these specific items are only indicators of much broader underlying dimensions of cross-cultural variation.


    The traditional versus secular-rational values dimension reflects the contrast between societies in which religion is very important and those in which it is not, but deference to the authority of God, fatherland, and family are all closely linked with each other. The importance of the family is a major theme: in traditional societies, a main goal in most people’s lives is to make their parents proud; and one must always love and respect one’s parents regardless of how they behave; conversely, parents must do their best for their children, even at the cost of their own well-being; and people idealize large families (and actually have them: high scores on this dimension correlate strongly with high fertility rates). Although the people of traditional societies have high levels of national pride, favor more respect for authority, take protectionist attitudes toward foreign trade, and feel that environmental problems can be solved without international agreements, they accept national authority passively: they rarely discuss politics. In preindustrial societies the family is crucial to survival. Accordingly, societies at the traditional pole of this dimension reject divorce and take a pro-life stance on abortion, euthanasia, and suicide. They emphasize social conformity rather than individualistic striving, support deference to authority, and have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook. Societies with secular-rational values have the opposite preferences on all of these topics [Source: Chapter 2 from Inglehart, R & C. Welzel. 2005. Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence. New York: Cambridge University Press].

    The survival versus self-expression dimension taps a syndrome of tolerance, trust, emphasis on subjective well-being, civic activism, and self-expression that emerges in postindustrial societies with high levels of existential security and individual autonomy. At the opposite pole, people in societies shaped by existential insecurity and rigid intellectual and social constraints on human autonomy tend to emphasize economic and physical security above all; they feel threatened by foreigners, ethnic diversity, and cultural change – which leads to intolerance of gays and other outgroups, insistence on traditional gender roles, and an authoritarian political outlook. A central component of this dimension involves the polarization between materialist and postmaterialist values. These values tap an intergenerational shift from emphasis on economic and physical security, toward increasing emphasis
    on self-expression, subjective well-being, and the quality of life. This cultural shift is found throughout postindustrial society; it emerges among birth cohorts that have grown up under conditions in which one can take survival for granted. These values are linked with the emergence of growing emphasis on environmental protection, the women’s movement, and rising demands for participation in decision making in economic and political life. During the past thirty years, these values have become increasingly widespread in almost all postindustrial societies. Societies that emphasize survival values have relatively low levels of subjective well-being, report relatively poor health, and are low on interpersonal trust, relatively intolerant of outgroups, and low on support for gender equality. They emphasize materialist values, have relatively high levels of faith in science and technology, and are relatively low on environmental activism and relatively favorable to authoritarian government. Societies that rank high on self-expression values tend to have the opposite preferences on all of these topics. Overall, self-expression values reflect an emancipative and humanistic ethos, emphasizing human autonomy and choice. When survival is uncertain, cultural diversity seems threatening. When there isn’t enough to go around, foreigners are perceived as dangerous outsiders who may take away one’s sustenance. People cling to traditional gender roles and sexual norms, emphasizing absolute rules and old familiar norms, in an attempt to maximize predictability in an uncertain world. Conversely, when survival begins to be taken for granted, ethnic and cultural diversity become increasingly acceptable – indeed, beyond a certain point, diversity is not only tolerated but becomes positively valued because it is interesting and stimulating. In postindustrial societies, people seek out foreign restaurants to taste new kinds of cuisine; they pay large sums of money and travel long distances to experience exotic cultures. Changing gender roles and sexual norms no longer seem threatening [Source: Chapter 2 from Inglehart, R & C. Welzel. 2005. Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence. New York: Cambridge University Press].

    The past few decades have witnessed one of the most dramatic cultural changes that has occurred since the dawn of recorded history, the shift toward gender equality, enabling women to choose from among a much wider range of life trajectories than ever before. Polarization over new gender roles is a major component of the survival versus self-expression dimension: one of its highest-loading issues involves whether men make better political leaders than women. In the world as a whole, a majority still accepts the idea that men make better political leaders than women; however, this view is rejected by growing majorities in postindustrial societies and is overwhelmingly rejected by the younger generation within these societies. Equal rights for women, gays and lesbians, foreigners, and other outgroups tend to be rejected in societies where survival seems uncertain but are increasingly accepted in societies that emphasize self-expression values. Thus, each of the two major phases of modernization – industrialization and the emergence of postindustrial society – gives rise to a major dimension of cross-cultural variation.


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