Geert Hofstede: the 6 Dimensions of National Culture

Me, Geert Hofstede, My Dad

I spent the last 3 days with Prof Geert Hofstede in Finland.  He is 82 years old and still passionate and excited about his work.  He is the 4th most cited Social Scientist of all time (and the only one of the top 5 that is still alive).  His major contribution has been in the area of culture.

What is Culture?

Geert Hofstede defines it as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from another”. The “category” can refer to nations, regions within or across nations, ethnicities, religions, occupations, organizations, or the genders.

The 6 dimensions of National Culture

(from Geert Hofstede)

Prof. Geert Hofstede speaking to us at Espoo, Finland

Power Distance (PDI)
Power distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. This represents inequality (more versus less), but defined from below, not from above.

Individualism (IDV)
Individualism on the one side versus its opposite, collectivism, is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after her/himself and her/his immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.

Masculinity (MAS)
Masculinity versus its opposite, femininity, refers to the distribution of emotional roles between the genders which is another fundamental issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found. The assertive pole has been called masculine and the modest, caring pole feminine. The women in feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in the masculine countries they are more assertive and more competitive, but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between men’s values and women’s values.

Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI)
Uncertainty avoidance deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising, different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures, and on the philosophical and religious level by a belief in absolute Truth: “there can only be one Truth and we have it”.  The opposite type, uncertainty accepting cultures, are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible, and on the philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side.

Long-Term Orientation (LTO)
Long- term oriented societies foster pragmatic virtues oriented towards future rewards, in particular saving, persistence, and adapting to changing circumstances. Short-term oriented societies foster virtues related to the past and present such as national pride, respect for tradition, preservation of “face”, and fulfilling social obligations.

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 society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.

Country Values
This is a sample of the values on these 6 dimension for a range of countries.  The full list of countries is available as an excel download here.

Africa East 64 27 41 52 32 40
Africa West 77 20 46 54 9 78
Arab countries 80 38 53 68 23 34
Australia 36 90 61 51 21 71
China 80 20 66 30 87 24
France 68 71 43 86 63 48
Germany 35 67 66 65 83 40
Great Britain 35 89 66 35 51 69
Greece 60 35 57 112 45 50
Ireland 28 70 68 35 24 65
Italy 50 76 70 75 61 30
Japan 54 46 95 92 88 42
Netherlands 38 80 14 53 67 68
Romania 90 30 42 90 52 20
Russia 93 39 36 95 81 20
Spain 57 51 42 86 48 44
U.S.A. 40 91 62 46 26 68

Cultural Awareness

I lived in Ireland til I was 14, then USA til 16, then London til 18.  We spoke the same language in each place, but it took a year or so until I really understood the kids and teachers around me.  The explicit stuff is easy, it is the implicit, assumed stuff that is really dangerous in creating misunderstanding.

Author: Conor Neill

Hi, I’m Conor Neill, an Entrepreneur and Teacher at IESE Business School. I speak about Moving People to Action.

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