Comparing Cultures: Geert Hofstede

Geert Hofstede was born in The Netherlands in October of 1928. Throughout his career, he has written several books, taught at universities, and even worked at IBM. However, Hofstede is most famously a social psychologist known for developing the cultural dimensions theory in his thesis “Dimensionalizing Cultures: The Hofstede Model in Context.” This theory has been immensely influential in cultural studies across the globe, especially as it pertains to cross-cultural interactions and behaviors between different peoples. 

Let’s take a look at Hofstede’s theory and why it is important in cultural studies, international travel, and the language services industry.

What is Hofstede’s Theory?

Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory sums up the effects of a society’s culture on its members' values. This theory utilizes six dimensions, and each society is assigned a level (from 0-120) across each dimension based on the value of its members. The higher the score, the more the society exhibits the mentioned values.

Listed below are the six dimensions. We will use Japan as an example when describing the dimensions.

Power Distance Index: The Power Distance Index is defined by Hofstede as “the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.” Basically, this index measures how much lower-level members of society question authority because of the inequality present in society.

Japan scores 54 on the Power Distance index, meaning that it is a borderline hierarchical culture. This is because Japan is not as hierarchical as many other Asian countries, although it does have hierarchical aspects.

Individualism vs. Collectivism: The Individualism vs. Collectivism index is defined by Hofstede as “the degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups.” This index distinguishes which countries put a greater emphasis on the individual (“I”) and which put greater emphasis on the group (“we”).

Japan scores 46 on the Individualism index, meaning that Japan is a very collective society (ie, people are extremely polite to one another in public), but is not as collective as other Asian neighbors.

Masculinity vs. Femininity: In the Masculinity vs. Femininity index, masculinity is defined by Hofstede as, “a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success.” Conversely, femininity is defined as, “a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life.” Hofstede categorizes masculine countries as those who greatly value masculine over feminine virtues and feminine countries those who greatly value feminine virtues.

Japan scores very high on the Masculinity index – 95 – meaning that Japan is one of the most Masculine societies in the world. Japanese society is extremely competitive, and corporate life can be cutthroat.

Uncertainty Avoidance Index: The Uncertainty Avoidance Index is defined by Hofstede as, “a society’s tolerance for ambiguity.” This measures how willing a society is to deviate from standard norms.

Japan scores high on this index as well – 92 – meaning that Japanese people do not like to deviate from the norm. The unexpected is not appealing in Japanese society, and citizens are generally not big risk-takers.

Long-Term Orientation vs. Short-Term Normative Orientation: The Long-Term Orientation vs. Short-Term Normative Orientation index looks at a society’s ties to past, present, and future as it pertains to economic development. Short-term countries don’t usually have much economic development, whereas long-term countries do.

Again, Japan scores high on this index – 88 – meaning that it is one of the most long-term oriented countries in the world. Japanese businesses invest in R&D even in times of economic uncertainty, because they tend to be focused more on the big picture.

Indulgence vs. Restraint: In “Indulgence” societies, citizens allow freedom of gratification and enjoyment of life, whereas in “restraint” societies, citizens suppress gratification by strict regulation.

Japan ranks relatively low on the Indulgence index, indicating that it is a culture of Restraint. This indicates that Japanese people do not place much importance on leisure time, and instead focus more on business and personal control.

Why is This Important?

Hofstede’s theory is important for many reasons. The theory can aid travelers when they venture to a new country whose people may have different values than their own. It helps to categorize societies so that they can be compared to one another. Comparison allows business to better choose which countries may fit their customer base.

In terms of translation, Hofstede’s indices also help companies to choose how to better localize content to better appeal to international audiences based on their core values.  

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