The gap in values Thursday 12 August 2010

What have these countries in common: Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Costa Rica, Finland, Portugal, Thailand? According to Geert Hofstede in these countries men and women are more alike with regard to their values. In fact, in Norway and Sweden the values of men and women are so much alike, that it's apparently hardly possible to predict their sex looking at test scores only.

Most of the world is different in this regard, since in most parts of the world the values of men and women are to a degree different. Examples of countries where the gap between men and women seems to be the largest are Japan, Austria, Venezuela, Mexico. To add one more layer of complexity: globally women share more of their values, regardless of the culture they come from, while men differ the most, depending on their cultural background. But in countries where men have different values then women, the women to an extent adapt their values to the men, becoming in effect more ‘men-like’ (I guess we could call this ‘the Margaret Thatcher effect’).

There is a whole spectrum of values that can be tied to this dimension of more feminine values versus masculine values. In practice it is often risky to isolate a single dimension or set of values from the larger context. For example, in feminine cultures people tend to be more modest. However, modesty is supposed to be a cultural trait of Japan as well, even though Japanese culture tops the scale of masculinity. The explanation is probably that Japanese (men in particular) reserve their boastfulness for specific domains of interaction.

It can be fun though, to look at a trait somewhat in isolation. In one study[1] researchers looked at the question to what extent the attitudes of female and male heterosexuals and homosexuals in the US and Sweden differentiated between sex and love.

Within each country, sex and love were seen as more different by men then by women. Among men, they were seen as most different by homosexuals and least by married heterosexuals, with single heterosexuals in between. Among women, the order was reversed: Sex and love were seen as most different by married heterosexuals, less by single heterosexuals, and least by lesbians. The perception gap between the sexes was smallest for married couples (who have to accommodate to the partner's attitude), larger for singles, and largest for homosexuals (who do not have to accommodate to the other sex at all). Much larger than the differences between these categories within the countries, however, were the differences between the two countries as a whole: All Swedish groups distinguished much less between sex and love than the corresponding U.S. groups, and there was no overlap between the answers from the two countries in this respect. All groups in the feminine culture, Sweden, came much closer to equating sex with love. [2]

U.G. Foa, B. Anderson, J. Converse, W.A. Urbansky, K.J. Cawley, S.M. Muhlhausen & K.Y. Tornblom. (1987) ‘Gender-related sexual attitudes: Some cross-cultural similarities and differences.’ Sex Roles, 16(9-10),511-519.

Geert Hofstede et al. (1998) Masculinity and Femininity: The taboo dimension of national cultures. SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks. (p. 161)