Based initially on the research of Geert Hofstede, conducted between 1967 and 1978, Hofstede’s five dimensions (originally four dimensions) remains the most widely used model for assessing national cultures. It seeks to classify each culture along five dimensions by providing a value (from 0 to 100) for each dimension, which can be used to directly compare one culture to another. For this reason, Hofstede’s five dimensions will feature in several posts on Japanese culture.
It is important to remember that this model deals with general national culture, which is often different to organisational culture, managerial culture, or even the culture within various groups in a nation (for example regional culture, cultures of different religions, etc.).
Below you can find a brief outline each of the five dimensions:
Power distance: This refers to the extent to which members of a society accept inequality. A high power distance points to a society which is more hierarchical, where decisions are less democratic and power is more centralised, and where subordinates are less likely to offer criticism. Wealth distribution is also affected by power-distance, with high power-distance societies tending to have more wealth in the hands of fewer individuals.
Individualism vs collectivism: This refers to the strength of the ties between individuals. Essentially it describes the degree to which the interests and identity of the individual prevail over the group. In collectivistic societies people act and identify themselves predominantly as members of a group (i.e. they tend to think in terms of “we”) and ties between individuals are very tight. This can be seen both at work and in their personal lives, where one is defined by the family that one belongs to. In individualistic societies, ties between individuals are looser and there is far less integration. The emphasis is on personal achievements (i.e. they tend to think in terms of “I”).
Masculinity vs femininity: Some cultures have more or less distinction between the gender roles. Those that have a greater distinction are labelled as masculine. Masculine values are defined as competitiveness, ambition, power, and assertiveness, with winning and excelling being the determinants of success. In a feminine culture the difference between gender roles is minimised, with both sides placing value on caring, interpersonal relationships, and quality of life.
Uncertainty avoidance index: This refers to the extent to which “members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these” (from geert-hofstede.com). In countries with high uncertainty avoidance, one finds more rules, beliefs in absolute truths, and emphasis on security and precision. They are also less tolerant, less accepting of personal risks, and less relaxed. It is essentially the degree to which members of a society are socialised into accepting the future or trying to beat it.
Long term orientation: Hofstede’s fifth dimension deals with the extent to which a society emphasises the future instead of the present or the past in its values, reward systems, etc. Jandt (2009) explains that “long-term orientation encourages thrift, savings, perseverance toward results, and a willingness to subordinate oneself for a purpose. Short-term orientation is consistent with spending to keep up with social pressure, less savings, preference for quick results, and a concern with face.”
This concludes the overview of Hofstede’s five dimensions. You can find more information at http://geert-hofstede.com/.
Cultural Dimensions Theory, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hofstede%27s_cultural_dimensions_theory, accessed September 2012
Hofstede G. (1983), The Cultural Relativity of Organizational Practices and Theories, Journal of International Business Studies, 1983
Study Site for An Introduction to Intercultural Communication, Sixth Edition, http://www.sagepub.com, accessed November 2012
The Hofstede Center, http://geert-hofstede.com/, accessed November 2012