Skip to main content

Individualisation rising and individualism declining in France: How can this be explained?

Abstract

Many analysts are very pessimistic about French society, which is becoming increasingly individualistic, with everyone acting according to their own interests. In fact, individualism is very often confused with individualisation, i.e. the desire for autonomy in the conduct of one’s life. These two attitudes are in fact quite opposite. Contrary to popular belief, individualism has been on the decline in France for the past 10 years, while individualisation is progressing very strongly. And above all, the more individualised you are, the less individualistic you are. The autonomy of the individual goes hand in hand with a stronger altruism. These attitudes are strongly linked to trust in others, left–right orientation, egalitarian values between men and women, politicisation and religiosity.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Source: EVS data for France

Fig. 2

Source: EVS data for France. Derived from Galland (2019, p. 102)

Fig. 3

Source: EVS data for France

Notes

  1. With his distinction between solid and liquid society, Bauman modernises the dichotomy put forward by Durkheim between mechanical and organic society.

  2. Lozerand (2014) has criticised this thesis, showing that forms of individualisation exist in alla parts of theworld.

  3. The classical Inglehart’s index only takes into account four indicators, asking interviewees to choose the two most important goals among four: maintaining order, fighting inflation, increasing the participation of citizens and ensuring the freedom of expression. The two first post-materialist items are opposed to the latter ones dealing with materialistic expectations.

  4. This axis of values resembles Schwartz's axis opposing individual autonomy and collective security, even if the indicators used by Schwartz are less contextualised than those of the Values surveys (in Europe or in the world) (Dobewall and Strack 2014).

  5. As the coefficients are quite low, it is dubious that this result indicates a real French specificity.

  6. In the case of individualisation, only 10 indicators are the same as in our 2008 index. As regards individualism, 14 are the same as in 2008. Modifying the previous indexes was necessary to be able to compare the two attitudinal scales over three or four waves.

  7. Four possible answers for each question.

  8. This question is the very simple index devised by Inglehart (1977), already presented.

  9. The first two factors relate to individualisation, the first around the permissiveness of morals, the second around the meaning of work.

  10. Four possible answers for each question.

  11. Index built with a question asking interviewees whether they belong to different types of associations.

  12. In each wave, all indicators strongly contribute to the first factor, while the second is more specific, pitting involvement in public life against mere altruistic compassion.

  13. The five taken into account in the scale of individualisation (homosexuality, abortion, divorce, euthanasia and suicide), plus casual sex and prostitution (which cannot be included as they were absent in one or two waves).

  14. I just wanted to note here the main results of the European comparison. Explanations of the differences between countries are multifaceted but income, educational achievements, religious belonging and personal religiosity are probable explanatory factors.

  15. It is, however, not possible to include it in our index as this question was asked for the first time in 2018.

  16. This includes four questions (desiring a greater respect for authority, valuing the maintenance of order, having confidence in the army and police); this attitudinal scale is not perfect but acceptable (alpha de Cronbach = 0.57).

  17. Six categories are included: family, neighbours, people they know personally, people they meet for the first time, people of another religion or of another nationality.

  18. This index has in fact often been criticised (Flanagan 1987; Bréchon 2010). It is far from perfect but it has the great advantage of being simple. It separates rather well the two groups of “pure” materialists and “pure” post-materialists but in all countries the “mixed” people who pursue both materialistic and post-materialistic goals are the greatest in number. In fact, many people simultaneously want qualitative and quantitative values.

  19. The link with individualisation is enhanced by the presence of the two Inglehart’s indicators in my attitudinal scale (out of 15 indicators).

  20. The index of politicisation includes five indicators: the importance of politics in one’s life, interest in politics, and the frequency of follow-up of politics on TV, radio and newspapers.

  21. The index of active political participation includes four indicators relating to petitions, boycotts, lawful demonstrations and unofficial strikes.

  22. Here too, links with the individualist scale are reinforced by the presence of two indicators of politicisation and four indicators of political activism (out of 17 indicators).

  23. Income has not been retained as this variable turned out not to be significant. Sex was also not retained, the significance not being substantial, even if, all things being equal, women are a little bit more individualised and also a little bit more individualistic.

  24. In particular, mainstream Protestantism has always promoted free inquiry and free will. It is probably why the Lutheran Nordic countries are the most individualised in Europe. But they are also very secular, something which still favours individual autonomy.

  25. More details about the study of traditional values of the working class in Bréchon 2012.

  26. If it seems debatable to insert this attitudinal scale in the index of individualisation as Welzel did, the regression confirms that the link is nevertheless strong between the two variables.

References

  • Arrow, K. 1951. Social Choice and Individual Values. New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bauman, Z. 2000. Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bauman, Z. 2007. Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bauman, Z. 2011. Culture in a Liquid Modern World. Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Braconnier, C., and N. Mayer (eds.). 2015. Les Inaudibles. Sociologie politique des précaires. Paris: Sciences po les presses.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bréchon, P., F. Gonthier, and S. Astor (eds.). 2019. La France des valeurs. Quarante ans d’évolutions. Grenoble: Presses universitaires de Grenoble.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bréchon, P. 2012. Les ouvriers sont-ils plus autoritaires et plus xénophobes que les autres groupe sociaux? In Une droitisation de la classe ouvrière en Europe?, ed. J.M. De Waele and M. Vieira, 41–68. Paris: Economica.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bréchon, P. 2017. Individualization and individualism in European Societies. In European Values. Trends and Divides Over Thirty Years, ed. P. Bréchon and F. Gonthier, 232–253. Boston: Brill.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Bréchon, P., and O. Galland. 2010. Individualisation et individualisme. In L’individualisation des valeurs, ed. P. Bréchon and O. Galland, 13–30. Paris: Armand Colin.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bréchon, P. 2010. Le retour du matérialisme? In L’individualisation des valeurs, ed. P. Bréchon and O. Galland, 103–118. Paris: Armand Colin.

    Google Scholar 

  • Castel, R. 2009. La montée des incertitudes. Paris: Seuil.

    Google Scholar 

  • de Singly, F. 2003. Les uns avec les autres. Quand l’individu crée du lien. Paris: Armand Colin.

    Google Scholar 

  • de Singly, F. 2017. Double Je. Identité personnelle et identité statutaire. Paris: Armand Colin.

    Google Scholar 

  • de Tocqueville, A. 1840. De la démocratie en Amérique tome 2. Paris: Folio histoire, 1961. [1994, Democracy in America. New York: Everyman’s Edition].

  • Dobewall, H., and M. Strack. 2014. Relationship of Inglehart’s and Schwartz’s value dimensions revisited. International Journal of Psychology 49 (4): 240–248.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Durkheim, E. 1898. Individualism and the Intellectuals. Trans. From: L’individualisme et les intellectuels, Revue bleue, 4th series, vol. 10. https://fr.scribd.com/.

  • Dumont, L. 1983. Essai sur l’individualisme. Une perspective anthropologique sur l’idéologie moderne. Paris: Seuil.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ester, P., L. Halman, and R. De Moor (eds.). 1993. The Individualizing Society. Value Change in Europe and North America. Tilburg: Tilburg University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Flanagan, S. 1987. Value change in industrial societies. American Political Science Review 81(4): 1303–1319.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fourquet, J. 2019. L’archipel français. Naissance d’une nation multiple et divisée. Paris: Seuil.

    Google Scholar 

  • Galland, O. 2019. Libéralisme des mœurs: une progression qui s’accélère en 2018. In La France des valeurs. Quarante ans d’évolutions, ed. P. Bréchon, F. Gonthier, and S. Astor, 101–107. Grenoble: Presses Universitaires de Grenoble.

    Google Scholar 

  • Granovetter, M. 1973. The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology 78: 1360–1380.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Halman, L. 1996. Individualism and Individualized Societies. Results from the European Values Surveys. International Journal of Comparative Sociology 37(3–4): 195–214.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Halman, L. 2001. Individualism in contemporary Europe. In The Many Faces of Individualism, ed. A. Harskamp and A.W. Musschenga, 25–46. Leuven: Peeters.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hoftede, G. 1980. Culture’s consequences: International differences in work related values. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Inglehart, R. 1977. The Silent Revolution. Changing Values and Political Styles Among Western Publics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Inglehart, R. 1997. Modernization and Postmodernization. Cultural, Economic and Political Change in 43 Countries. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Inglehart, R., and W.E. Baker. 2000. Modernization, cultural change, and the persistence of traditional values. American Sociological Review 65(1): 19–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Inglehart, R., and C. Welzel. 2005. Modernization, cultural change, and democracy: The human development sequence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Knutsen, O. 1995. Value orientations, political conflicts and left–right identification: A comparative study. European Journal of Political Research 28(1): 63–93.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Knutsen, O. 1998. Left–right materialist value orientations. In The Impact of Values, ed. J.W. Van Deth and E. Scarbrough, 160–196. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Kriesi, H.P., E. Grande, R. Lachat, M. Dolezal, S. Bornshier, and T. Frey. 2008. West European politics in the age of globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Lakatos, Z. 2015. Traditional values and the inglehart constructs. Public Opinion Quarterly 79(1): 291–324.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Le Bart, C. 2008. L’individualisation. Paris: Presses de sciences po.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Lozerand, E. (ed.). 2014. Drôles d’individus. De la singularité individuelle dans le reste du monde. Paris: Klincksieck.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lipovetsky, G. 1983. L’ère du vide. Essai sur l’individualisme contemporain. Paris: Gallimard.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lipset, S.M. 1959. Democracy and working-class authoritarianism. American Sociological Review 24(4): 482–501.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mendel, G. 1983. 54 millions d’individus sans appartenance. Paris: Laffont.

    Google Scholar 

  • Olson, M. 1965. Logic of collective action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Putnam, R. 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stolle, D., and M. Hooghe. 2005. Inaccurate, exceptional, one-sided or irrelevant? The debate about the alleged decline of social capital and civic engagement in western societies. British Journal of Political Science 35(01): 149–167.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schwartz, S.H. 1992. Universals in the content and structure of values: Theory and empirical tests in 20 countries. In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 25, ed. M. Zanna, 1–65. New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Welzel, C. 2010. How selfish are self-expression values? A civicness test. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 41(2): 152–174.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Welzel, C. 2013. Freedom Rising. Human Empowerment and the Quest of Emancipation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Welzel, C., and A.A. Moreno. 2014. Enlightening people the spark of emancipative values. In The Civic Culture Transformed: From Allegiant to Assertive Citizens, ed. R.J. Dalton and C. Welzel, 59–88. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Pierre Bréchon.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Bréchon, P. Individualisation rising and individualism declining in France: How can this be explained?. Fr Polit 19, 114–138 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41253-020-00139-1

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/s41253-020-00139-1

Keywords

  • Values
  • Individualisation
  • Individualism
  • Altruism
  • Individual autonomy
  • Culture change
  • France
  • European values studies (EVS)