Culture and SWB: Conceptual Analysis
Schyns (1998) points out that there are two theories that link culture and SWB. One is the “comparison theory”, according to which human happiness depends on comparisons between standards of quality of life and perceived life circumstances. The other is Maslow’s “needs theory”. According to Maslow, leading a good life will largely be determined by the extent of need-satisfaction. The more needs are satisfied, the happier people will be. The needs of people are classified into different levels. At the very basic level are the needs for survival, including food. Next, there are the physiological and safety needs, such as security, stability, dependency, freedom from fear and anxiety, structure, order, law and so on. After the satisfaction of the more basic needs, there will emerge the needs for love, affection and belonging. At an even higher level, there is the desire for esteem, reputation, prestige, fame and glory. Maslow also pointed out that higher need gratification produces more desirable subjective results, i.e. more profound happiness, serenity and richness of inner life (Maslow 1970).
The theory of comparison suggests that the satisfaction of material needs has limited contributions in increasing happiness. Even with increases in incomes, the effects on happiness may not be significant if the incomes of others also increase. According to the needs theory, basic needs such as material needs may be easily satisfied, but the effects of the satisfaction of these needs on happiness are limited, with diminishing marginal utility. On the other hand, satisfaction at the higher spiritual levels is limitless.Footnote 2 The emphasis on the pursuit of material needs is nearly the same across different culture and different countries. But the emphasis on the spiritual pursuit differs across different cultures, making culture very important in affecting SWB.
Both theories suggest that economic or material satisfaction is relatively easily obtained. The effects of different cultures on this level of satisfaction do not differ much. Culture only has significant different effects on higher levels of need. For example, Eastern cultures put emphasis on interpersonal comparisons. While Euro-American cultures emphasize freedom and independence, Eastern cultures focus on harmony and collective interests, putting collectivism above individualism. We believe that both the comparison and the needs theories capture some important aspects affecting happiness.
The Measurement of Culture
Various methods have been used to capture cultural characteristics. Two of the more widely used classifications are discussed below.
Hofstede and his co-authors classify aspects of national cultures into 5 dimensions based on the survey of 53 IBM branches across the world in the 1970s (Hofstede 1980; Hofstede and Bond 1988), namely, individualism, power distance, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, and Confucian dynamism, to measure the attitudes of people towards groups, power, gender, uncertainty and the future.
The GLOBE culture project provides us with updated cultural values from surveys in 62 countries in the 1990s. The GLOBE project extends Hofstede’s 5 dimensions to 9 dimensions, including assertiveness orientation, institutional collectivism, in-group collectivism, future orientation, gender differentiation, humane orientation, performance orientation, power distance, and uncertainty avoidance. Among them, collectivism and individualism, power distance, future dimension, uncertainty avoidance, and gender egalitarianism are included in both classifications. In terms of individual/collectivism, GLOBE and Hofstede use opposite measures: Hofstede uses the dimension of individualism, while GLOBE uses collectivism, which is further divided into institutional collectivism and in-group collectivism. Gender differentiation in GLOBE is similar to the masculinity dimension in Hofstede’s system but also in the opposite direction. Humane orientation, performance orientation and assertiveness orientation are unique to the GLOBE system.
The GLOBE cultural indicators have two data sets, namely practice scores and value scores. The former is derived from the answers of the interviewees regarding the prevailing status of the country’s culture; the latter is about what the direction for the future should be. Since we mainly want to discuss the effects of culture on people’s perception of current happiness, following Chui and Kwok (2009), Tang and Koveos (2008), we use the GLOBE practice scores for testing the relationship between culture and happiness.
The Influences of Culture on Happiness: Hypotheses Development
In-group Collectivism (ING)
This dimension refers to a closed, intense social organization, in which people are divided into the “in-group” and “outside group”; people expect care from others in the “in-group”, and they have high degrees of loyalty to the group in return. Consensus and collaborative efforts are regarded as more valuable than individual action.
Unlike the Hofstede culture indices, in the GLOBE culture indices system, there are two kinds of collectivism, namely In-group collectivism (ING) and institutional collectivism (INC). The former reflects the degree to which individuals take pride in their membership in small groups such as their families and circles of close friends (Javidan and House 2001).The latter refers to the extent to which societal institutions encourage the collective distribution of resources and collective action (House et al. 2002).
ING places more emphasis on the constraints on individuals and is more effective in a small group, and so it corresponds more to individualism in Hofstede’s indices, but in the opposite direction (Chui and Kwok 2008). In the empirical field, Arrindell et al. (1997) found that Hofstede’s individualism is significantly positively related to SWB. Therefore, ING may be negatively related to happiness. Thus we have the following hypothesis:
The SWB of a country is negatively related to its level of In-group collectivism.
Institutional Collectivism (INC)
This dimension reflects the extent to which a society’s institutions favour collectivism versus autonomy (Javidan and House 2001). It also refers to the extent to which societal institutions encourage the collective distribution of resources and collective action (House et al. 2002).
Institutional collectivism is a little different from in-group collectivism in that it gives more emphasis to social support. Organizations in countries with high institutional collectivism tend to take more responsibility for the welfare of employees (Javidan and House 2001). Triandis et al. (1988) point out that when people face unpleasant life events, social and interpersonal support in collectivistic societies can help to buffer against stress and disease.
Diener et al. (1995) argue that the effects of individualism-collectivism on SWB cannot be predicted with certainty. In collectivistic countries, there might be greater feelings of social support, which ought to enhance SWB. In contrast, individualistic societies have more personal freedom, and individuals have a higher ability to pursue their individual goals, which also ought to enhance SWB. Since institutional collectivism gives more emphasis to social support comparing with in-group collectivism, we have the following hypothesis:
The SWB of a country is positively related to its level of institutional collectivism.
Power Distance (PDI)
This dimension is the degree to which individuals expect and agree that power should be unequally shared (Javidan and House 2001). Hofstede argues that a large power distance in nations may lead to inequalities (between persons). Such inequalities could lead individuals to feel that they at the mercy of forces beyond their control. This causes greater externality, which is negatively correlated with mental well-being. A large power distance in nations goes hand in hand with inequalities, not only in work organizations but also in areas such as social status and prestige, wealth and civil rights. Thus a significantly negative association is predicted between PDI and national levels of SWB. Arrindell et al. (1997) also find a negative relationship between PDI and SWB. We therefore put forward our second hypothesis:
The SWB of a country is negatively related to its level of PDI.
Gender Egalitarianism (GEI)
This dimension refers the degree to which a society minimizes gender role differences (House et al. 2002). Higher GEI societies give women more space to control their life and may enhance the average SWB levels in the whole society. Arrindell et al. (1997) also argue that masculine societies are characterized by higher job stress and lower overall satisfaction at work, and feminine nations have significantly higher average SWB scores. Barnett and Baruch (1987) discover that in a society with a higher GEI, women have more choices in social roles, leading to their higher self-assessed health levels, such as lower rates of sickness and lower usage of drugs, hence contributing to a higher SWB. One would expect the feminine (higher GEI) nations to have significantly higher average scores on SWB than the more masculine ones. So we have hypothesized as follows:
The SWB of a country is positively related to its level of GEI.
Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI)
This dimension is defined as a country’s reliance on social norms and procedures to alleviate uncertain future events (Javidan and House 2001). In Hofstede’s view, societies with high UAI scores are typified by nervousness, lower ambition for individual advancement, and pessimism about work-related issues. Using Hofstede’s culture UAI data, Arrindell et al. (1997) found that UAI is negatively related to SWB. But in the GLOBE culture index system, as Chui and Kwok (2008) pointed out, UAI mainly refers to the extent to which individuals in a country seek orderliness, consistent structured lifestyles, a clear specification of social expectations, and rules and laws to cover unpredictable situations (Javidan and House 2001). Therefore, a high UAI may not necessary lead to stress and nervousness. One specific question asked in the GLOGE survey regarding this dimension is: “Most people lead highly structured lives with few unexpected events” (House et al. 2004). People in high UAI countries tend to agree with this statement. This indicates that people in high uncertainty avoidance societies have fewer unpredictable future events. According to Maslow’s needs theory, the need for safety is the most important basic level need after survival. The satisfaction of the safety need ensures stable and long-term SWB. UAI may approximately reflect the effort in the pursuit of the safety need. Thus we have the following hypothesis:
The SWB of a country is positively related to its level of UAI.
Assertiveness Orientation (AOI)
This dimension refers to the degree to which individuals are encouraged to be tough and competitive (Javidan and House 2001). Javidan and House (2001) also pointed out that people in highly assertive societies tend to value competition and sympathize with the strong. Chui and Kwok (2008) indicated that people in highly assertive societies are less inclined to help others when they are in need. This means that people may easily feel helpless when they suffer difficulties, which may decrease their SWB. The excessive focus on competition results in tensions and pressures. It is also related to comparison. According to the theory of social comparison, the excessive competition of social comparison may lead to only one victor and many failures, reducing the general level of SWB. So we put forward the following hypothesis:
The SWB of a country is negatively related to its level of AOI.
Future Orientation (FOI)
This dimension refers to the extent to which a society encourages planning, investing in the future, and delaying gratification (Javidan and House 2001). Gratification in the future is an important part of people’s overall happiness. Emphasis on the future can increase control over future uncertainty. The need for security is very important in Maslow’s theory, as it contributes to basic satisfaction in the long run. The emphasis on the future contributes to the avoidance of uncertainty and provides a basic level of satisfaction with life. We thus have the following hypothesis:
SWB is positively related to the level of future orientation.
Humane Orientation (HOI)
This dimension refers to the degree to which a society encourages and rewards individuals for being fair, altruistic, generous, caring and kind to others (Javidan and House 2001). People in societies with a high humane orientation are expected to care for the needs of others, and the social security network in countries with high HOI is likely to be stronger than in countries with a low humane orientation. This means that individuals will not be too unhappy when they have difficulties. Moreover, according to Maslow’s theory, after the satisfaction of lower levels needs and subject to ability levels, generosity and helping others are higher level needs that may provide larger contributions towards SWB. Being kind to others makes individuals feel good (the warm glow effect). Thus we have the following hypothesis:
SWB is positively related to the level of humane orientation.
Performance Orientation (POI)
This dimension reflects the extent to which a community encourages and rewards innovation, high standards and performance improvement (House et al. 2004). McClelland (1987) introduces the concept of need for achievement, which is defined as the need to do better. With this need people tend to achieve pleasure from progressive improvement. In a high performance orientation country, improvement and innovation will be rewarded, leading to higher SWB at the individual level. Improvement and innovation also contribute to self-esteem and self-realization, which are higher level needs in Maslow’s theory and very important for SWB. The dimension of Performance is also closer to Individualism. Generally, a more individualist society also encourages competition and Performance more. We put forward our hypothesis as follows (Table 1):
SWB is positively related to the level of Performance orientation.