Geert has operated in an international environment since 1965, and his curiosity as a social psychologist led him to the comparison of nations, first as a travelling international staff member of a multinational (IBM) and later as a visiting professor at an international business school in Switzerland. His 1980 book Culture's Consequences combined his personal experiences with the statistical analysis of two unique data bases. The first and largest comprised answers of matched employee samples from 40 different countries to the same attitude survey questions. The second consisted of answers to some of these same questions by his executive students who came from 15 countries and from a variety of companies and industries. Systematic differences between nations in these two data bases occurred in particular for questions dealing with values. Values, in this case, are "broad preferences for one state of affairs over others", and they are mostly unconscious.
The values that distinguished countries (rather than individuals) from each other grouped themselves statistically into four clusters. They dealt with four anthropological problem areas that different national societies handle differently: ways of coping with inequality, ways of coping with uncertainty, the relationship of the individual with her or his primary group, and the emotional implications of having been born as a girl or as a boy. These became the Hofstede dimensions of national culture: Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Individualism versus Collectivism, and Masculinity versus Femininity. Between 1990 and 2002, these dimensions were largely replicated in six other cross-national studies on very different populations from consumers to airline pilots, covering between 14 and 28 countries. In the 2010 third edition of our book Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, scores on the dimensions are listed for 76 countries.
Power distance (click to hear it being introduced by Geert in ten minutes) is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. This represents inequality (more versus less), but defined from below, not from above. It suggests that a society's level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders. Power and inequality, of course, are extremely fundamental facts of any society and anybody with some international experience will be aware that "all societies are unequal, but some are more unequal than others".
Uncertainty avoidance deals with a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising, different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures, and on the philosophical and religious level by a belief in absolute Truth: "there can only be one Truth and we have it". People in uncertainty avoiding countries are also more emotional, and motivated by inner nervous energy. The opposite type, uncertainty accepting cultures, are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible, and on the philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side. People within these cultures are more phlegmatic and contemplative, and not expected by their environment to express emotions.
Individualism on the one side versus its opposite, collectivism, is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after her/himself and her/his immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. The word collectivism in this sense has no political meaning: it refers to the group, not to the state. Again, the issue addressed by this dimension is an extremely fundamental one, regarding all societies in the world.
Masculinity versus its opposite, femininity, refers to the distribution of emotional roles between the genders which is another fundamental issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found. The IBM studies revealed that (a) women's values differ less among societies than men's values; (b) men's values from one country to another contain a dimension from very assertive and competitive and maximally different from women's values on the one side, to modest and caring and similar to women's values on the other. The assertive pole has been called masculine and the modest, caring pole feminine. The women in feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in the masculine countries they are more assertive and more competitive, but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between men's values and women's values.
Research by Michael Bond and colleagues among students in 23 countries led him in 1991 to adding a fifth dimension called Long- versus Short-Term Orientation. In 2010, research by Michael Minkov allowed to extend the number of country scores for this dimension to 93, using recent World Values Survey data from representative samples of national populations. Long- term oriented societies foster pragmatic virtues oriented towards future rewards, in particular saving, persistence, and adapting to changing circumstances. Short-term oriented societies foster virtues related to the past and present such as national pride, respect for tradition, preservation of "face", and fulfilling social obligations.
In the same book a sixth dimension, also based on Minkov's World Values Survey data analysis for 93 countries, has been added, called Indulgence versus Restraint. 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.
The country scores on these dimensions are relative - societies are compared to other societies. These relative scores have been proven to be quite stable over decades. The forces that cause cultures to shift tend to be global or continent-wide - they affect many countries at the same time, so that if their cultures shift, they shift together, and their relative positions remain the same.
Power distance scores are high for Latin, Asian and African countries and smaller for Anglo and Germanic countries. Uncertainty avoidance scores are higher in Latin countries, in Japan, and in German speaking countries, lower in Anglo, Nordic, and Chinese culture countries. Individualism prevails in developed and Western countries, while collectivism prevails in less developed and Eastern countries; Japan takes a middle position on this dimension. Masculinity is high in Japan, in some European countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and moderately high in Anglo countries; it is low in Nordic countries and in the Netherlands and moderately low in some Latin and Asian countries like France, Spain and Thailand. Long-term orientation scores are highest in East Asia, moderate in Eastern and Western Europe, and low in the Anglo world, the Muslim world, Latin America and Africa. Indulgence scores are highest in Latin America, parts of Africa, the Anglo world and Nordic Europe; restraint is mostly found in East Asia, Eastern Europe and the Muslim world.
The grouping of country scores points to some of the roots of cultural differences. These should be sought in the common history of similarly scoring countries. All Latin countries, for example, score relatively high on both power distance and uncertainty avoidance. Latin countries (those today speaking a Romance language i.e. Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian or Romanian) have inherited at least part of their civilization from the Roman empire. The Roman empire in its days was characterized by the existence of a central authority in Rome, and a system of law applicable to citizens anywhere. This established in its citizens' minds the value complex which we still recognize today: centralization fostered large power distance and a stress on laws fostered strong uncertainty avoidance. The Chinese empire also knew centralization, but it lacked a fixed system of laws: it was governed by men rather than by laws. In the present-day countries once under Chinese rule, the mindset fostered by the empire is reflected in large power distance but medium to weak uncertainty avoidance. The Germanic part of Europe, including Great Britain, never succeeded in establishing an enduring common central authority and countries which inherited its civilizations show smaller power distance. Assumptions about historical roots of cultural differences always remain speculative but in the given examples they are plausible. In other cases they remain hidden in the course of history.
The country scores on the six dimensions are statistically correlated with a multitude of other data about the countries. For example, power distance is correlated with the use of violence in domestic politics and with income inequality in a country. Uncertainty avoidance is associated with Roman Catholicism and with the legal obligation in developed countries for citizens to carry identity cards. Individualism is correlated with national wealth and with mobility between social classes from one generation to the next. Masculinity is correlated negatively with the percent of women in democratically elected governments. Long-term orientation is correlated with school results in international comparisons. Indulgence is correlated with sexual freedom and a call for human rights like free expression of opinions.
The Hofstede model of dimensions of national culture has been applied in the practice of many domains of human social life, from the interpersonal to the national, in public domains and in business, in education and in health care. According to the Web of Science, in 2008 more than 800 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals cited one or more of Geert Hofstede's publications.
Of particular interest are the applications in the field of marketing, advertising and consumer behaviour, in which Dutch scholar Marieke de Mooij plays a key role (www.mariekedemooij.com).