Better for Everyone? Egalitarian Culture and Social Wellbeing in Europe

  • Leonie C. SteckermeierEmail author
  • Jan Delhey


The goal of this study is to explore the relationship between culture and social well-being, focusing on inferiority feelings. While being respected is widely seen as a key ingredient of a good life, inferiority feelings signal a lack of esteem from others. Previous research has mainly looked at income inequality as the key contextual condition for inferiority feelings and other status concerns, often inspired by the income inequality thesis/Spirit Level paradigm (Wilkinson and Pickett 2010). We contribute to this discussion by extending this paradigm into the cultural realm. Our main assumption is that an inegalitarian culture breeds inferiority feelings, whereas an egalitarian culture dampens them and in this sense is “better”. Within a multi-level framework we combine information on culture, operationalized as collective values and beliefs, retrieved from the European Value Study for 30 European countries, and survey data on inferiority feelings for over 37,000 individuals from the most recent European Quality of Life Survey (2011–12). Our evidence suggests that widespread self-expression values and social trust (as expressions of an egalitarian culture) are indeed better as they dampen individuals’ inferiority feelings while widespread individual blame for poverty (an expression of an inegalitarian culture) heightens them. In further analyses of each income quintile separately, we find evidence that culture matters—for good or worse—for all income groups, except the poorest quintiles. Our results should prompt scholars of social status and social well-being to pay more attention to the impact of culture.


Social wellbeing Status anxiety Values Beliefs Inequality European Quality of Life Survey 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Social Sciences, Otto von Guericke UniversityMagdeburgGermany

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