Geert Hofstede and cultural-dimensions theory—an overview

Geert Hofstede and cultural-dimensions theory—an overview

Geert Hofstede is a Dutch social psychologist and anthropologist who has studied the interactions between cultures. He has received numerous awards for his intercultural research all over the world. One of his most notable accomplishments is the establishment of the cultural dimensions theory, which provides a systematic framework for assessing the differences between nations and cultures.

The theory is based on the idea that value can be placed upon six cultural dimensions. These are power (equality versus inequality), collectivism (versus individualism), uncertainty avoidance (versus uncertainty tolerance), masculinity (versus femininity), temporal orientation, and indulgence (versus restraint). Hofstede gathered most of his data on world cultural values through surveys conducted by IBM, a US-based technology and consulting firm. He then proposed a scoring system using a scale from 1 to 120.

Power-Distance index: According to Hofstede, “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 dimension does not measure the level of power distribution in a given culture, but rather analyzes the way people feel about it. Low power-distance scores mean that a culture expects and accepts that power relations are democratic and members are viewed as equals. High power-distance scores mean that less powerful members of the society accept their place and realize the existence of formal hierarchical positions.

Individualism vs. Collectivism: “The degree to which individuals are integrated into groups.” This dimension has no political connotation and refers to the group rather than the individual. Cultures that are individualistic place importance on attaining personal goals. In collectivist societies, the goals of the group and its wellbeing are valued over those of the individual.

Uncertainty-Avoidance index: “A society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity.” This is a dimension that measures the way a society deals with unknown situations, unexpected events, and the stress of change. Cultures that score high on this index are less tolerant of change and tend to minimize the anxiety of the unknown by implementing rigid rules, regulations, and/or laws. Societies that score low on this index are more open to change and have fewer rules and laws and more loose guidelines.

Masculinity vs. Femininity: “The distribution of emotional roles between the genders.” This dimension measures the level of importance a culture places on stereotypically masculine values such as assertiveness, ambition, power, and materialism as well as stereotypically feminine values such as an emphasis on human relationships. Cultures that are high on the masculinity scale generally have more prominent differences between genders and tend to be more competitive and ambitious. Those that score low on this dimension have fewer differences between genders and place a higher value on relationship building.

Long-term Orientation vs. Short-term Orientation: This dimension describes a society’s time horizon. Short-term oriented cultures value traditional methods, take a considerable amount of time to build relationships, and in general view time as circular. This means the past and the present are interconnected and that which cannot be done today can be done tomorrow. The opposite of this is long-term orientation, which sees time as linear and looks to the future rather than the present or the past. It is goal-oriented and values rewards.

Indulgence vs. Restraint: This dimension measures a culture’s ability to satisfy the immediate needs and personal desires of its members. Those that value restraint have strict social rules and norms under which satisfaction of drives is regulated and discouraged.

Hofstede stresses that the cultural dimensions are only a framework to help assess a given culture and thus better guide decision making. There are other factors to take into consideration such as personality, family history, and personal wealth. The proposed dimensions cannot predict individual behaviors and do not take into account individual personalities.

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