Geert Hofstede is a professor emeritus of at Maastricht University in The Netherlands. Born in 1928 in Holland, he gained recognition for his anthropological studies of cultural differences across countries and organizations. He wrote Culture’s Consequences and Cultures and Organizations, Software of the Mind, among other works. But Hofstede, who once said “cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster,” is best known for his list of five cultural factors used to evaluate differences between organizations and nations.
The factors, roughly defined:
1) Power Distance Index: “The extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally….It suggests that a society’s level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders.”
2) Individualism vs. Collectivism: “On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her 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.”
3) Masculinity vs. Feminity: “Studies revealed that (a) women’s values differ less among societies than men’s values; (b) men’s values from one country to another contain a dimension from very assertive and competitive and maximally different from women’s values on the one side, to modest and caring and similar to women’s values on the other.”
4) Uncertainty Avoidance Index: “Deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man’s search for Truth. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations.”
5) Long-Term Orientation: “This fifth dimension was found in a study among students in 23 countries around the world, using a questionnaire designed by Chinese scholars It can be said to deal with Virtue regardless of Truth. Values associated with Long Term Orientation are thrift and perseverance; values associated with Short Term Orientation are respect for tradition, fulfilling social obligations, and protecting one’s ‘face’.”
Argentines, according to Hofstede, don’t like uncertainty. Here is what he has to say about the Gaucho-praising, beef-loving, bife de chorizo-chewing, Tango-dancers:
“Argentina is similar to many of the Latin American countries…. The high Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) ranking of 86 indicates the society’s low level of tolerance for uncertainty. In an effort to minimize or reduce this level of uncertainty, strict rules, laws, policies, and regulations are adopted and implemented. The ultimate goal of this population is to control everything in order to eliminate or avoid the unexpected. As a result of this high Uncertainty Avoidance characteristic, the society does not readily accept change and is very risk adverse.”
Strict rules in Argentina? I’m not sure how accurate, if at all, this characterization is of Argentina. Congress is now considering a law that would force parents to give their newborn children two last names, one from each parent. That seems like an unnecessary state intrusion into people’s private affairs. Why should the government be able to decide what your child’s last name (or names) should be? Examples of such intrusion abound. My former boss and bureau chief had to file a suit against the government so he could give his children unique names. For the sake of argument, let’s assume Argentina does favor strict rules. If so, would it be reasonable to think that decades of political and economic instability have led Argentines to value certainty within the home and within their cultural traditions?
It would be interesting to know exactly when and how often the study on Argentine culture has been carried out. Hofstede began his comparative cultural studies in 1973, just as Argentina was in the middle of very dark period in its history. If the study were repeated today, would the conclusions be any different?
In contrast, Hofstede’s study showed the U.S. to be the most individualistic nation on the planet. No surprise there. But the U.S. also came up as as one of the more tolerant and respectful of cultural differences, presumably because of centuries of immigration and a diverse cultural makeup. Americans appear to welcome uncertainty, at least more than Argentines, ranking 43rd. Could it be that more than two centuries of political and economic stability have steeled them to uncertainty’s nerve-rattling nature, making them more accepting of it in their personal lives? It’s hard to say. And any conclusion, as with Argentina, would be a generalization.
Asian nations, led by China, seemed to be the best at delayed gratification and long-term planning. The U.S. ranked 17th in this category. I couldn’t find a ranking in this slot for Argentina, but certainly one the country’s troubles has been an inability to plan long-term. Most governments, including the current one, simply put out fires as they appear. They fail to leave a positive, long-term footprint on future generations.
You can see an interactive global map and make use of Hofstede’s “cultural dimensions” to compare Argentina with other cultures here. Draw you own conclusions about the map’s validity.