Strange Maps

127 - The Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map of the World


On this map, East and West Germany are next to each other, as one would expect. But Romania’s closest neighbour is Armenia? And Poland and India are side by side? Well, this is not a straightforward geographical map, but a cultural one. It plots out how countries relate to each other on a double axis of values (ranging from ‘traditional’ to ‘secular-rational’ on the vertical and from ‘survival’ to ‘self-expression’ on the horizontal scale). This makes for some strange bedfellows – for example: South Africa, Peru and the Philippines occupy almost the same position, although they’re on three different continents.

I’ve found this map on this site, with an accompanying article by Ronald Inglehart, after whom this map is half-named. Inglehart is a political scientist at the University of Michigan and director of the World Values Survey, which charts cultural differences and changes all over the world. The two dimensions mentioned earlier (‘traditional/secular-rational’ and ‘survival/self-expression’) apparently explain more than 70% of cross-national variance in 10 indicators.

Four survey-waves have been executed between 1981 and 2001 in 80 societies. Inglehart’s work demonstrates significant value shifts – and predictable ones at that – especially in those societies moving through a late industrial or to a post-industrial phase. One of those changes is the diminishing role of gender differences, but the predictability extends to attitudes towards religion, politics and family life.

For example, in societies near the ‘traditional’ side of the traditional/secular-rational axis, religion is very important. This usually always implies a strong emphasis on family values, deference to authority, rejection of abortion, divorce, euthanasia and suicide, and even seems to predict a very nationalistic outlook on life. In countries more to the ‘secular-rational’ side of this axis, the attitudes towards these topics is reversed.

The other axis represents the shift from a society dominated by the struggle for survival to one where survival is a given, and the emphasis of the ‘struggle’ is on subjective well-being, quality of life and self-expression.

These shifts from a materialist towards a postmaterialist culture should eventually lead to less dirigist, more democratic societies. And to less religious ones too, consistent with the thesis that an increase in secularism is a by-product of this development. This might have seemed to be the trend throughout most of the 20th century, but that trend has arguably reversed in recent years, in the Muslim world as in the Americas, among others (Europe still being a notable exception). Inglehart points out that secularism coincides with dramatically falling birthrates, thus explaining why the ‘triumph’ of secularism seems to be accompanied by a rising tide of religious traditionalism and fundamentalism: people in those categories constitute a growing proportion of the world’s population.

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