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Hofstede's Six Dimensions of Culture

I teach a course called International Business, and one of the lessons I urge my students to study is how culture affects the values of a country. One of the most comprehensive studies on national values was done by a former IBM engineer, Professor Geert Hofstede from the Netherlands. Dr. Hofstede and his team developed a model of national culture consisting of six dimensions. These six dimensions can be measured and scored, allowing observers and scholars to compare differences between countries. As was expected, groups of countries shared similar values. For example, Anglo-English speaking countries such as the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and several others all had similar cultural values. The Nordic countries had similarities, as did several Asian countries and several Middle Eastern countries. In a moment, we will compare some of the values, but first, let's identify what they are and how they affect you.

The six dimensions are:

The Power Distance Index (PDI)

This dimension expresses how the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. The fundamental issue here is how a community handles inequalities among people.

People in societies exhibiting a significant degree of Power Distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and needs no further justification. In communities with low Power Distance, people strive to equalize the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power. For example, countries in South America and the Middle East have a high PDI where a steep hierarchical order has been in effect for hundreds, if not thousands of years. In the U.S. and the U.K., the PDI is lower because of political demands for equality enforced by the Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution.

Individualism versus Collectivism (IDIV)

The high side of this dimension, called Individualism, can be defined as a preference for a loosely-knit social framework. Individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families.

Its opposite, Collectivism, represents a preference for a tightly-knit framework in society. Individuals can expect their relatives or members of a particular ingroup to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. A society's position on this dimension is reflected in whether people's self-image is defined in terms of "I" or "we." The U.S. has a high degree of Individualism, whereas countries like Mexico, China, and Viet Nam have a high degree of Collectivism.

Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS)

The Masculinity side of this dimension represents a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material rewards for success. Society at large is more competitive. Its opposite, Femininity, stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak, and quality of life. Society at large is more consensus-oriented.

In the business context, Masculinity versus Femininity is sometimes also related to as "tough versus tender." Masculinity cultures would include Middle Eastern and South American countries. Femininity culture would consist of Japan and the Nordic countries.

Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)

The Uncertainty Avoidance dimension expresses how the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. The fundamental issue here is how a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? Uncertainty Avoidance is also sometimes referred to as risk tolerance. Some communities accept risk better than others.

Countries exhibiting robust UAI maintain rigid codes of belief and behavior and are intolerant of unorthodox behavior and ideas. Weak UAI societies maintain a more relaxed attitude in which practice counts more than principles. Most European countries have a low UAI, while African countries, stirred on by food insecurity, have a high UAI.

Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Orientation (LNGTM)

Cultures differ in their perceptions of the risks of delaying gratification. Countries with a long-term orientation tend to be pragmatic, modest, and thriftier. In short-term-oriented countries, people emphasize principles, consistency, and truth and are typically religious and nationalistic. Societies who score low on this dimension, for example, prefer to maintain time-honored traditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion. China has long-term perspectives, while tribal communities in the Middle East and South Asia have short-term horizons.

Indulgence Versus Restraint (IVR)

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 community that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it using strict social norms. Countries with a high IVR score allow or encourage relatively free gratification of people's drives and emotions, such as enjoying life and having fun. In a society with a low IVR score, there is more emphasis on suppressing gratification and more regulation of people's conduct and behavior, and there are stricter social norms.

So, let's compare scores from the U.S. and several Islamic dominant countries and see where the main differences lie.

Country PDI Indiv Mas UAI LngTm IVR

Saudi Arabia 95 25 60 80 36 52

Iran 58 41 43 59 14 40

Indonesia 78 14 46 48 62 38

United states 40 91 62 46 26 68

These scores were collected and calculated from surveys by Hofstede and his team. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have a population that is 99 percent Islamic, one country predominately Sunni and the other Shite. While only having a population of 87 percent Muslim, Indonesia is geographically located in Southern Asia, not the Middle East. Any country's scores can be accessed at www.hofstede-insights.com/


PDI - The US Power Distance Index score was lower because, according to the law of the land, everyone is equal and shall not be discriminated against. Note that the PDI in Saudi Arabia is skewed towards inequality. This inequality is possibly against females as Saudi Arabia follows strict sharia rules that enforce female restrictions on what they can do and where they can go. While not as biased as Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Iran also fall into this same community trap because, under Islam, women have distinct roles that must be regulated.

Indiv – The U.S. places a high value on individual rights as granted by our Constitution. Islamic countries place individual rights below those of the ummah or the tribal community. In a sense, a low score can be an indicator of socialism, but Islamic countries are not socialistic in economic terms. I discuss sharia finance in my unpublished manuscript, Muslim Mechanics. The Prophet was a businessman and trader and believed in making a profit, which is anathema to socialism.

Mas – The U.S. has a masculine culture which leans towards productivity, achievement, and profit, all masculine values. Notice that Saudi Arabia has a high masculine score, almost identical to the U.S. In contrast, Iran and Indonesia are trending lower, which implies that their society is more consensus-oriented.

UAI – The Uncertainty Avoidance Index is low in the U.S. The typical U.S. citizen has ample opportunity to find a job. If no job, numerous social security safety nets kick in to take care of that citizen until they can get on their feet. Uncertainty about future needs is almost unheard of. However, that is not the case in Saudi Arabia and Iran. In both countries, stressful ambiguity about the future exists possibly due to political or religious institutions embroiled in neighboring wars and conflicts.

LngTm – The U.S. has a short-term orientation. This is reflected in the importance of short-term gains and quick results (profit and loss statements are quarterly, for example). It is said that the younger generation, unlike their parents, is willing to spend their income on experiences and products available now. They are unwilling to wait or defer gratification, even if they have to go into debt. While most countries with a short time perspective have a strong sense of nationalism and social standards, that is not the case in the United States. Having a long-term view, Indonesia strikes me as thrifty, pragmatic, and modest in its values. Iran, having a very short-term perspective, is nationalistic and exhibits religious fervor. However, their younger generation is starting to rebel against these values.

IVR – The Indulgence factor for the U.S. is hie in the U.S. are optimistic, enjoy the freedom of speech, and focus on personal happiness. It might appear that in those other countries, the mood is pessimistic, with individual behavior more controlled and rigid. Islam is a controlling religion with "religious police" and strict rules that guide daily behavior and relationships with immediate family and relatives.

More than likely, cultural values in these Islamic countries were formed before the religion came into being. Islam just codified and enforced the values that we see. However, as a country grows with new migrants and exposure from outside countries, new traditions emerge, and old ones disappear. With Islam, that is not the case. Islam is the cement that holds these values in place, becoming anchors that keep a country from growing. For example, Saudi Arabia's disparagement of women is a problem for that country if it wants to merge into the future. However, for the U.S., not having a solid religious anchor will cause the country to lose valuable ethics as their older generations die off and the newer generations, with different ethics, take over.

Having a religion that is too overbearing is just as bad as having a weak religion because both can impact a country's values in a negative manner.

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