How strongly Americanized are the Nordic countries

08.09.1998 00:00

Sweden in front

Burckhard Wiebe Information and communication lecture
Science Center Berlin for Social Research gGmbH

September 8, 1998

Sweden at the forefront of cultural development

Value systems in a globalized world

Berlin (wbs) Sweden - and not the U.S.A. - is the most progressive nation in the world. The Scandinavian country is at the forefront in terms of social prosperity as well as a high degree of secular-rational value orientations and a strongly pronounced need for quality of life and subjective well-being, as can be seen from worldwide surveys in which the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB) was significantly involved .

In the years from 1990 to 1997, surveys were carried out in a total of 61 countries from all continents as part of the World Values ​​Survey, which covered 73 percent of the world's population. In this way, the value orientations of the citizens of these countries can be compared with one another, so that it becomes clear whether or not, with increasing globalization, the differences between the cultures of the world are becoming more equal.

The value orientations - according to the assumption in the study, which was largely carried out by the "Institutions and Social Change" department of the WZB with funding from the Volkswagen Foundation - are closely related to the level of development of society. Their economic performance is particularly important. The value orientations influence the behavior of citizens, which in turn controls the development process of society.

If a country is socially prosperous, there is also a high degree of secular-rational value orientations and a strong need for quality of life and subjective well-being. States in a phase of modernization are changing from religious-traditional to secular-rational views; The driving force is the achievement motivation.

Highly developed societies are in the transition from modernization to a phase of post-modernization. The old secular-rational values ​​are becoming less important, economic growth and achievement motivation are no longer the measure of all things. The focus is on quality of life and the well-being of the individual.

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If the individual countries are "measured" in this way, an "atlas" of the cultures of the world results. The location on the same continent, colonial tradition, the language community, but above all belonging to the sphere of influence of the major world religions play an important role. "Cultural continents" emerge: for example Protestant and Catholic Europe, the English-speaking area, Islamic South Asia, the Orthodox group of states. A special case are those states which were influenced by communism in the sphere of power of the Soviet Union and which to a certain extent constitute their own "continent".

With this approach, Germany is divided into two parts. The east - shaped by an atheist, state socialist regime for over 40 years - is closer to the former communist countries, the west of Germany to the rich, democratic nations at the forefront of the development towards a post-modern state.

What is astonishing, however, is that the U.S.A. is not the spearhead of cultural development. They have more traditional value orientations than one of the richest nations in the world would expect. For example, in Northern Europe - especially in Sweden - there was more of a change in gender roles, tolerance towards homosexuals and a positive attitude towards environmental protection. The Nordic states - as well as the Netherlands - are thus at the same time more modern and postmodern than the U.S.A. The world will therefore probably not be "Americanized" in the future, but rather "Swedishized".

Appendix: "Atlas of World Cultures" graphic

"'Swedishization' of the world - value systems in a global perspective", in: WZB-Mitteilungen, Heft 81,
September 1998, pp. 5 - 8

Ronald Inglehart, Modernization and Post-modernization, Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag 1998, 514 pp.

Additional Information:
Professor Dr. Hans-Dieter Klingemann (WZB, Director of the Department "Institutions and Social Change")
Tel .: 030-25 49 13 20

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