Culture and personal values: theory and review.

Author:Swaidan, Ziad

    This study has three objectives. First, it lays the theoretical foundations to explore the cultural orientations of consumers along the four dimensions of Hofstede's (1980) model. Second, the theory to study personal values along the six dimensions of the Foltz and Miller (1979) framework is developed. And third, this study lays the theoretical basis to explore the relationship between the four dimensions of culture and the six dimensions of personal values.


    Hofstede Framework. Culture has a strong influence on individuals' attitudes toward both business ethics in general and various questionable business practices in particular. Hofstede identified four dimensions of culture: collectivism/individualism, masculinity/femininity, power distance, and uncertainty avoidance.

    Individualism/Collectivism. According to Hofstede (2001, p. 225) individualism is evident in "a society in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after herself/himself and her/his immediate family only." Individualists believe that personal goals and interests are more important than group interests. Individualists tend to have a high need for personal achievements and value individual rights. In contrast, collectivism is characterized by a tight social framework, in which people distinguish between in-groups and out-groups. Collectivists consider themselves as members of an extended family, tribe, nation or culture.

    Wood et al. (1988) concluded that individualism/collectivism influences the moral reasoning of individuals. Members of individualist societies frequently question the moral standards established by their societies. Several studies have reported that people in individualistic cultures are less concerned with following formal moral rules. Verma (1985) reported a positive relationship between individualism and the tendency of people to break rules. Morris, Davis and Allen, (1994) contended that individualists are guided by self-interest and achievement of personal goals. Akaah (1990) found support that individualists are less ethical than collectivists. These studies support the concept that collectivists are likely to be more sensitive to ethical issues than individualists.

    Masculinity/Femininity. Masculinity and femininity refer to the dominant gender patterns in a society. Masculinity has been defined as "a preference for achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material success" (Hofstede, 1985, p.348). Masculine individuals are characterized as assertive, aggressive, tough, ambitious, competitive, focused on material success and oriented toward money and material objects. Some of the most frequently cited reasons for unethical behaviors are greed and competitiveness, traits that are characteristics of masculine individuals. In contrast, feminine individuals are modest, tender, humble, nurturing, and concerned with the quality of life. Feminine individuals are more people oriented and less interested in personal recognition. They determine achievement in terms of close human relationships and quality of life. Cohen, Pant, and Sharp (1995) hypothesized that feminine individuals might be more concerned about ethical issues and less tolerant of aggressive, dollar driven behavior. These findings imply that individuals who score higher on the masculinity scale will be less sensitive to ethical problems than individuals who score lower on the same scale. Thus, this study predicts a negative relationship between masculinity and moral values.

    Power Distance. Hofstede (2001, p. 98) proposes that power distance represents "the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally." Individuals who score higher on power distance accept the inequality of power in their society more than individuals who score lower on the same scale. One important implication of power distance for ethical values relates to the likelihood that subordinates would perform unethical actions in response to superiors' pressure. Christie et al. (2003) ascertained that business managers from a country with a small power distance (i.e., the U.S.) viewed a questionable business practice (i.e., complying with the superior's unethical order) as more unethical than business managers from relatively large power distance oriented countries (i.e., India and Korea). These theories and findings support the notion that individuals who score higher on the power distance scale will be less sensitive to ethical issues than individuals who score lower on the same scale.

    Uncertainty Avoidance. Uncertainty avoidance signifies the extent to which people in a society feel threatened by uncertain and ambiguous situations and the extent to which they try to avoid these situations by adopting strict codes of behavior, a belief in absolute truths, establishing formal rules and not tolerating deviant ideas or behaviors (Hofstede, 1980). Individuals with high uncertainty avoidance are more concerned with security in life, feel a greater need for consensus and written rules, and are intolerant of deviations from the norm. In contrast, individuals with low uncertainty avoidance are less concerned with security in life, rely less on written rules, and are more risk tolerant. From an ethical perspective the tendency to take risks is highly correlated with unethical behavior. On the other hand, high uncertainty avoidance individuals place greater emphasize on "substance over form" (Cohen, Pant, and Sharp,1995). These findings provide evidence that individuals who score higher on the uncertainty avoidance scale will be more sensitive to moral issues than individuals who score lower on the same scale.

    Personal Beliefs and Values. Foltz and Miller (1979) measured six important dimensions of life in their Beliefs and Values Questionnaire (BVQ). These dimensions help explain why people differ in their outlook on the world. They influence our views and relationships and tend to color...

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