Are individualism and collectivism opposed

Dimensions of culture according to Hofstede. Individualism vs. collectivism in the USA and Germany

Table of Contents

2 Introduction

3 What is culture?

4 The comparison
4.1 Individualism and collectivism in social life
4.2 Individualism and collectivism in the legal system
4.3 Individualism and collectivism in sport

5 conclusion

6 List of sources

2 Introduction

“They are angry and they show it: tens of thousands of conservative critics protested on Saturday in Washington against the planned health care reform of the US government. On banners and posters they accused President Barack Obama of letting the role of the state become overwhelming in society and warned of an explosion in government spending and America's drift into socialism. It was one of the biggest protest events against Obama since he took office at the beginning of the year. "[1]

Reports like this could often be read in German newspapers in autumn 2009. Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, fought for a law that would reform America's health and welfare system. In the end, he prevailed and the law went into effect. However, he received support from only 40 percent of Americans. Almost half of the opponents cited the fear of excessive costs as the reason.[2] However, what about the other half? Why are so many Americans reluctant to get government insurance?

A study by the Dutch cultural psychologist Geert Hofstede could provide an answer to this question. In this he came to the conclusion that there are six different cultural dimensions, including one with the name Individualism and collectivism. This housework will focus on this dimension. How do individualistic and collectivistic cultures differ? What is characteristic of them? Questions like these will guide you through the housework, always comparing the United States and Germany. In the course of the elaboration it will be clarified why numerous Americans protested against the mentioned health reform.

So that a cultural comparison can take place, it must first of all be defined what the term Culture at all means. This is followed by the main part of this work, namely the comparison. It will begin with a brief description of Hofstede's cultural dimensions, then the various cultures will be compared with one another in terms of social life, law and sport. Finally, there is a conclusion in which the results are briefly summarized and interpreted.

3 What is culture?

Culture is such a complex and abstract concept that it cannot be clarified with a single concise definition. Therefore, different explanations by different people are mixed up in the following.

The culture appears, among other things, as a complex whole[3], Orientation system[4] or also as a field of action (field of action)[5] described. It includes "knowledge, belief, art, morality, law, customs and other skills that humans have acquired as members of society"[6]. Culture influences all areas of an individual's life as well as their perception and actions.[7] According to Malinowski, it is used as a tool to solve problems that arise in the satisfaction of needs[8] and also sets goals, rules and limits[9]. Culture is passed on from one generation to the next and is subject to a constant process of change. It contributes greatly to the formation of everyone's identity, but this happens more unconsciously than consciously.[10]

Hofstede sees the culture as mental software (software of the mind) of a person, which is memorized from childhood and varies depending on the social environment. It is learned, not inherited, and dictates, for example, how feelings are expressed in public, a greeting or how strictly personal hygiene is taken. According to Hofstede, a culture is made up of four different areas that are arranged like layers of onions on top of each other. The outer layer are Symbols, for example gestures, words or images that are associated with a certain meaning in the respective culture. This is followed by the cultural area of Heroesthat includes fictional as well as real role models. The next layer is that of the Rituals, whereby societal, social and religious recurring actions are meant. These three areas are among the characteristics of a culture that are visible to an outsider. The fourth layer, on the other hand, is hidden under them, for it contains them values, the heart of every culture.[11]

4 The comparison

As already mentioned, Geert Hofstede conducted a study of cultural differences in the workplace from 1967 to 1973. For this purpose, employees of the large corporation IBM were surveyed in more than 70 countries and the results were evaluated. Hofstede then defined four different cultural dimensions, to which he later added two more. These cultural dimensions deal with what kind of Power distance in a culture, whether it is more likely feminine or masculine is how she used to Uncertainty avoidance whether she is more likely long-term or short-term oriented is and whether in the culture Individualism or collectivism prevails. In general, Hofstede understands a collectivist culture to mean that group interests take precedence over the interests of the individual. In an individualistic culture it is exactly the opposite.[12] The following comparison is intended to illustrate exactly how different values, priorities and behaviors emerge. It should be noted that a culture never consists exclusively of individuals with an individualistic or collectivistic disposition, but rather that these terms describe a tendency in the respective culture. According to Hofstede's analysis, Americans have a very strong tendency towards individualism and occupy first place in his ranking with 91 out of 100 points. Germany, on the other hand, received 67 points and is in 15th place.[13] Although German culture was also assigned a relatively high number of points, numerous examples of collectivist thinking can be found there.

4.1 Individualism and collectivism in social life

Probably the best example of individualism in American society is welfare. In the United States, financial aid from the state has a negative connotation. Because as a result, Americans lose part of their individual freedom and independence, both of which are fundamental values ​​in society. If state aid has to be used, it should only be of short duration.[14] It is precisely this shortness of duration that is at the center of the social reforms signed by Bill Clinton in 1996. The law stipulates that welfare benefits can be received for a maximum of five years, forcing unemployed Americans to find a job.[15] This regulation reflects the basic attitudes of society. The focus is on the autonomy and self-reliance of one's own person, while dependence on the state or other organizations is undesirable. This can also explain the aforementioned rejection of state health insurance.


[1] MIRROR Online (2009)

[2] Rüb in the F.A.Z. (2010)

[3] Tylor (2001), p. 32

[4] Thomas (1993), p. 380 ff.

[5] Boesch (1991), p. 29

[6] Tylor (2001), p. 32

[7] Thomas (1993), p. 380 ff.

[8] Sociology Guide (2012)

[9] Boesch (1991), p. 29

[10] Straub (1999), p. 185

[11] Hofstede (1997), p. 4 ff.

[12] (2012)

[13] Hofstede (1997), p. 53

[14] Datesman, Crandall, Kearny (2005), p. 29 ff.

[15] U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany (2010)

End of the reading sample from 17 pages