Why is it so easy for one country to collectively decide to wear masks, while other countries fight for individual freedoms? Why might a person from one culture prioritize indulgence over restraint? Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory attempts to answer this question by saying that cultures hand down their values to individuals, impacting their behaviors and decisions. Interested to learn more? This page offers basic information on the theory and how it applies to the United States of America.
What is Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory?
Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory looks at how different dimensions of culture affect the people within that culture. The theory posits that culture affects a member’s values, as well as their behaviors and decision-making process. By understanding a person’s culture, you can better understand them.
History of Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory
Geert Hofstede was a social psychologist from the Netherlands who also started a research department in IBM Europe during the 1970s. During this time, he put together an extensive survey of the employees of IBM Europe to better understand their values. The survey looked at the national values of over 100,000 participants, and at the time, it created one of the largest databases of its kind. With the survey results, Hofstede was able to identify different ways in which cultures influenced an individual’s values.
As the theory gained popularity, Hofstede expanded his research to include people outside of IBM, including students, pilots, and consumers. The research of Hofstede and other psychologists looking at this theory have surveyed participants from 93 countries around the world. Research contributing to this theory has taken place as recently as 2010, 40 years after Hofstede’s original survey went out.
Individual values heavily influence how a person communicates and conducts business. A person who is raised in a more individualist culture, for example, may not “look out for” their teammates in the same way that a person raised in a collectivist culture does. No one culture is inherently “better” than another, but the more that people understand about cultures outside of their own, the easier it becomes to communicate and work toward solutions in a way that benefits all parties.
Want to learn more about Hofstede’s theory? Culture's Consequences, published in 1984, details Hofstede’s early work on this theory and the results of his initial survey.
What Are the Four Original Dimensions in Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory?
The four original dimensions identified in Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory are power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, and uncertainty avoidance. Two other dimensions were added in later years by Hofstede and independent researchers: long-term orientation and indulgence vs. self-restraint.
According to Hofstede, these dimensions impact the way that cultures solve different “problems” or conflicts:
- Social Inequality
- Relationships between the individual with her or his primary social group
- Emotional implications of having been born as a girl or as a boy
The power distance index (PDI) measures how easily members of a culture, particularly less powerful members, accept a hierarchy within that culture. Countries with a low PDI are more likely to challenge the idea of unequal distributions of power and fight for equality. Countries with a high PDI are more likely to accept unequal distributions of power.
Individualism vs. Collectivism
An individualist culture emphasizes the importance of individual freedom, even if it impacts the safety or freedoms of other members of the culture. Collectivist cultures are taught to focus on the needs of the whole culture, rather than individuals or a select group of members.
Masculinity vs. Femininity
Within the context of Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory, masculinity is defined by values like assertiveness, competitiveness, and a drive to achieve. Femininity, on the other hand, is defined by values like nurturing, caring, and modesty. Scoring high on the MAS means that culture is more masculine and teaches more masculine values.
How well does a culture handle change? The answer influences their score on the Uncertainty Avoidance Index. A low score indicates that a country is okay with change and that they are flexible enough to take anything that deviates from the norm. They adapt quickly and don’t take steps to prepare for change. Cultures with high uncertainty avoidance are emotional regarding the change, and take extra steps to create rules and policies to keep a routine in place and avoid change.
Does a culture think in the short-term or the long-term? This index attempts to answer that question. Cultures with a high score value look to the future, while cultures with a low score prioritize instant gratification.
Indulgence vs. Self-Restraint
This index is exactly what it sounds like! A culture with high indulgence likes to indulge in the finer (and more fun) things in life. Cultures with low indulgence scores prefer self-restraint and focus on less fun goals.
Based on these definitions, take a moment to reflect on the culture in the U.S.A. Where might the U.S. score high or low? How do these dimensions impact how Americans make decisions regarding policy, law, and our relationships with other countries? Keep reading to see how well you guessed!
Where Does The U.S.A. Stand on Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory?
How does the US compare to other cultures? That’s a great question, and you can read more about the survey results in the US on Hofstede-Insights.com. Below are some of the highlights (and you can compare our results to other countries’ results here.)
The U.S. scored 62 in masculinity, which is a relatively high score.
To compare, Japan scored 92 in masculinity, whereas Sweden scored around 5. This means that the US is led by typically “masculine” values like assertiveness, competition, and achievement. To anyone who has been pressured to get a gold medal in sports, win your spelling bee, or attend the best colleges, this probably isn’t a surprise. Americans often to be the best, and they will use aggressive or assertive tactics to secure that title.
The U.S. scored 46 in uncertainty avoidance.
To compare, Greece scored 112 in uncertainty avoidance, whereas Jamaica scored 13. The U.S. score of 46 isn’t particularly low, but it does show that Americans typically react calmly to change and uncertainty. We certainly take steps to avoid dramatic changes, but these changes don’t usually send us into too much of a tailspin.
The U.S. scored a 91 on individualism.
This means we are a highly individualist culture. No other country scores higher on individualism than we do! Australia comes close at 90, and Great Britain trails behind them at 89. Americans value individual freedom, and many would argue that this often comes at the expense of providing safety and security to others. Many Americans do not want to “pay for another person’s healthcare” and chastise those that receive government assistance, even though that assistance may be available to them in times of need, too.
The ideas of individualism and collectivism also fundamentally shape different political parties in America, and the laws and policies that those parties support. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, some politicians favored an individual’s right to wear a mask over the collectivist desire to keep all people safe and healthy. Which side of the argument is more important? It depends on how individualist a person is and how much the individualist culture of America has influenced their decision-making.
The U.S. scored 40 on power distance.
To compare, Malaysia scored 104 in power distance and New Zealand scored 22. The U.S.'s score of 40 is relatively low, meaning that authority is more likely to be questioned and hierarchies are less likely to be accepted as inevitable. A low power distance score and a high individualist score are a perfect combination for a culture with an entrepreneurial spirit. This is why many people come to America: they hear the U.S.’s message that no matter who you are or where you come from, you can “make it” with hard work and determination.
The U.S. scored a 26 in long-term orientation.
To compare, China scored 118 and Nigeria scored 16. A 26 is quite a low score for a country that has sustained great economic growth. Cultures with higher scores focus on long-term prosperity, whereas cultures with lower scores are typically more focused on what is going to satisfy their needs now. Such a short-term orientation shows why businesses like Amazon succeed so well in the U.S.; it satisfies our needs now, despite any long-term consequences the business model could have regarding sustainability or the welfare of its workers.
The U.S. scored 68 in indulgence vs. self-restraint.
To compare, Venezuela scored 100 in indulgence and Russia scored 20. Compared to a country like Russia, the U.S. recognizes its desire to have fun and a happy life and pursues them. The pursuit of happiness is written in our constitution as an individual right!