State of the Union January/February 2006

Mapping America's Values

How our cultural attitudes stack up against 
those of other countries

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The chart below shows the values predominating in thirty countries, as measured by the World Values Survey— an investigation of sociocultural and political change coordinated by Ronald Inglehart, of the Institute for Social Research, at the University of Michigan. Values are plotted along two axes. The vertical axis shows the importance in each country of religion and closely associated beliefs: countries toward the bottom emphasize family and community, reject divorce and abortion, and display a nationalistic outlook. The horizontal axis measures trust, tolerance of outsiders, attitude toward change, and the priority given to individual freedom and self-expression. The arrows indicate how values have changed within each country from the time the country was first surveyed (usually 1981 or 1990) to the time it was last surveyed (usually 2001).

primary sources chart

Poor countries tend to cluster in the lower left quadrant of the chart, and rich ones in the upper right quadrant. And indeed, as countries become wealthier, they tend to migrate up and to the right—that is, they become less traditional morally and more individualistic. A number of Asian nations and former members of the Soviet bloc sit in the upper left quadrant; they are largely secular, but also conservative in their views of cultural change. The United States resides in the least populated quadrant: the lower right. America is not entirely alone; a few other rich, English-speaking countries hold similar values. And it appears that some Latin American and South Asian countries are modernizing without losing their traditional religious values. But the United States nonetheless occupies an unusual position: no other country is both as religious and as permissive.

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