Dimensions of national culture

Professor Geert Hofstede conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture. He defines culture as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from others”. The six dimensions of national culture are based on extensive research done by Professor Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, Michael Minkov and their research teams. 

Dimensions of national culture

The model of national culture consists of six dimensions. The cultural dimensions represent independent preferences for one state of affairs over another that distinguish countries (rather than individuals) from each other. The country scores on the dimensions are relative, as we are all human and simultaneously we are all unique. In other words, culture can be only used meaningfully by comparison. The model consists of the following dimensions (click on the name of the dimension to read more):

 Power Distance Index (PDI)

This dimension expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. The fundamental issue here is how a society handles inequalities among people. People in societies exhibiting a large degree of Power Distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. In societies with low Power Distance, people strive to equalise the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power.

 Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV)

The high side of this dimension, called individualism, can be defined as a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families. Its opposite, collectivism, represents a preference for a tightly-knit framework in society in which individuals can expect their relatives or members of a particular in-group to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. A society's position on this dimension is reflected in whether people’s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “we.”

 Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS)

The Masculinity side of this dimension represents a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success. Society at large is more competitive. Its opposite, femininity, stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. Society at large is more consensus-oriented. In the business context Masculinity versus Femininity is sometimes also related to as "tough versus tender" cultures.

 Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)

The Uncertainty Avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. The fundamental issue here is how a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? Countries exhibiting strong UAI maintain rigid codes of belief and behaviour and are intolerant of unorthodox behaviour and ideas. Weak UAI societies maintain a more relaxed attitude in which practice counts more than principles.

 Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Normative Orientation (LTO)*

Every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and the future. Societies prioritize these two existential goals differently.

Societies who score low on this dimension, for example, prefer to maintain time-honoured traditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion. Those with a culture which scores high, on the other hand, take a more pragmatic approach: they encourage thrift and efforts in modern education as a way to prepare for the future.

In the business context this dimension is related to as "(short term) normative versus (long term) pragmatic" (PRA). In the academic environment the terminology Monumentalism versus Flexhumility is sometimes also used.

 Indulgence versus Restraint (IND)

Indulgence stands for a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun.  Restraint stands for a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.

Culture only exists by comparison

The country scores on the dimensions are relative, as we are all human and simultaneously we are all unique. In other words, culture can be only used meaningfully by comparison.

These relative scores have been proven to be quite stable over time. The forces that cause cultures to shift tend to be global or continent-wide. This means that they affect many countries at the same time, so if their cultures shift, they shift together and their relative positions remain the same. Exceptions to this rule are failed states and societies in which the levels of wealth and education increase very rapidly, comparatively speaking. Yet, in such cases, the relative positions will also only change very slowly.

The country culture scores on The Hofstede Dimensions correlate with other data regarding the countries concerned. Power Distance, for example, is correlated with income inequality, and individualism is correlated with national wealth. In addition, Masculinity is related negatively with the percentage of national income spent on social security. Furthermore, Uncertainty Avoidance is associated with the legal obligation in developed countries for citizens to carry identity cards, and long term orientation (LTO) is connected to school mathematics results in international comparisons.

 The evolution of the dimensions

The values that distinguished country cultures from each other could be statistically categorised into four groups. These four groups became the Hofstede dimensions of national culture:

  • Power Distance (PDI)
  • Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV)
  • Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS)
  • Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI)

A fifth dimension was added in 1991 based on research by Michael Harris Bond, supported by Hofstede, who conducted an additional international study among students with a survey instrument that was developed together with Chinese professors. That dimension, based on Confucian thinking, was called Long-Term Orientation (LTO) and was applied to 23 countries.

In 2010, research by Michael Minkov generated two dimensions using recent World Values Survey data from representative samples of national populations. One was a new dimension, and the second was more or less a replication of the fifth dimension. The number of country scores for the fifth dimension could now be extended to 93. On one hand, the fifth dimension of Bond and of Minkow correlate strongly, yet the constructs are not fully identical. The country scores used on this site are the scores of Minkov’s research. We refer to this fifth dimension as Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Orientation (LTO).

In the 2010 edition of Cultures and Organizations, a sixth dimension has been added, based on Michael Minkov's analysis of the World Values Survey data for 93 countries. This new dimension is called Indulgence versus Restraint (IND).

On the 17th of January in 2011, Geert delivered a webinar for SIETAR Europe called 'New Software of the mind' to introduce the 3rd edition of Cultures and Organizations, in which the research results of Minkov have been included.

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