Do countries shed collectivist traits?

When Hofstede did his initial cultural dimension research, he determined that all countries fell somewhere on a scale between individualist and collectivist tendencies. Most westernized countries, e.g. US, Canada, Germany, and France, showed extremely high individualist traits; comparatively, most Asian cultures, e.g. China, India, Malaysia, and Japan, were at the opposite end of the scale, showing considerably more collectivist traits.

Most marketing researchers accept this construct when developing international marketing strategies. But what happens when a country become more affluent and adopts more westernized attitudes towards consumerism?

Schimmack, Oishi, and Diener (2005) examined this question closely. They felt that economic development has two advantages as a research criterion

  1. Economic development is assessed by expert ratings and objective social indicators.
  2. Previous research indicated that economic development is related to individualism, with “causal links in both directions.”

The main hypothesis in the Schimmack et al. research is that “development is likely to increase individualism because affluence creates choices and allows people to express their individuality by making different choices.”

Their research reinforced a body of research that uses “individualism to explain cultural variation in personality, behavior, emotions, and subjective well being.” They found that as countries became more affluent, the average level of extraversion rose as well. Previous researchers have found that “extraversion is an important trait in individualist cultures because extraversion helps people to initiate contact with strangers and create new social relationships. This skill is more important in individualistic cultures where social relationships are formed by choice and change frequently.”

Schimmack et al. also found that levels of well being rose as a country became more affluent. This is important because “individualism often fosters higher life satisfaction because the culture gives people more freedom to pursue a life that is consistent with their own values and personalities.”

It is also important to note, however, that most research indicates while a collectivist culture may become more affluent, it will still remain – from a scale perspective – more collectivist in nature than more individualist nations.

From a marketer’s perspective, it should be remembered that, while most collectivist cultures will remain primarily collectivist in most aspects even as they grow economically, as the consumers in the society experience more wealth, their consuming traits may start to mirror their individualist peers more closely.

References:

Schimmack, U., Oishi, S., Diener, E. (2005). “Individualism: A valid and important dimension of cultural differences between nations.” Personality and Social Psychology Review. 9 (1), pp. 17-31.

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