4 Hofstede’s Dimensions of Culture

Unless otherwise noted, the majority of the content within this chapter has been retrieved from Cultures and Organizations Software of The Mind: Intercultural Cooperation and Its Importance for Survival by Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, and Michael Minkov[1].

 

Learning Objectives

After completing this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Define Hofstede’s six dimensions of culture (Guffey et al., 2013, p. 65-66; Hofstede et al., 2010)

 

Hofstede’s Six Dimensions of Culture

Professor Geert Hofstede created a framework in the 1980s for understanding cultural differences. He studied different cultures and determined that cultures differ according to how much importance they place on a particular value. He then created six “dimensions” or “value continuums.” By studying a culture, you can determine where it “sits” on each of the six continuums and then compare it to where another culture “sits” on the same continuum.  It is important to understand that each dimension is a spectrum, and a culture falls somewhere between the two extreme ends of that spectrum; there are no 100% absolutes. When you evaluate a culture based on one of the dimensions, you can picture the culture’s “score” as being a point along a line, but it is critical to to not ascribe a value judgement to a culture’s “score”. A higher or lower “score” on any dimension is not “good” or “bad”. The scores simply show how much importance a culture places on a particular value. In other words, the polar opposite ends of the value continuums simply indicate different values NOT different levels of ethics or morality and no score is better or worse than another.  

Evaluating where a culture sits on the spectrum of each of these dimensions can assist you in determining if the culture is a predominantly high-context or low-context culture. Always remember that a discussion of culture is necessarily a discussion of generalizations (sometimes called “prototypes” or “cultural patterns”) and so the “score” of a particular culture is not necessarily representative of the values of every member of that community.  

“National Culture cannot be changed, but you should understand and respect it.”

~ Geert Hofstede[2]

Guffey et al. (2013) define the dimensions of individualism and collectivism, low and high power distance, and short- and long-term time orientation:

 

1. Individualism vs. Collectivism [3]

An attitude of independence and freedom from control characterizes individualism. Members of low-context cultures, particularly North Americans, tend to value individualism. They believe that initiative and self-assertion result in personal achievement. They believe in individual action and personal responsibility, and they desire a large degree of freedom in their personal lives. Members of high-context cultures are more collectivist. They emphasize membership in organizations, groups, and teams; they encourage acceptance of group values, duties, and decisions. They typically resist independence because it fosters competition and confrontation instead of consensus.

Members of many low-context cultures value independence and freedom from control.

Many cultures, of course, are quite complex and cannot be characterized as totally individualistic or group oriented. For example, Canadians of European descent are generally quite individualistic, while those with Asian backgrounds may be closer to the group-centred dimension[4].

The following tables illustrate some differences between collectivist and individualist cultures:

Chart showing Individualistic vs Collectivist Cultures
Cultures and Organizations Software of the Mind, Hofstede et al., p. 113.
Chart showing language differences between Individualistic and collectivist cultures
Cultures and Organizations Software of the Mind, Hofstede et al., p. 117.
chart showing differences in education and employment in individualistic versus collectivist cultures
Cultures and Organizations Software of the Mind, Hofstede et al., p. 124.

This fascinating TEDTalk[5] discusses in more detail how a culture’s position on the individualistic/collectivist dimension can affect communication, especially in terms of humour and insults:

 

2. Power Distance

People in some cultures place less emphasis on tradition, ceremony, and social rules than do members of other cultures. North Americans, for example, dress casually and are soon on a first-name basis with others. Their lack of formality is often characterized by directness. In business dealings North Americans come to the point immediately; indirectness, they feel, wastes time, a valuable commodity in North American culture.

Tradition, ceremony, and social rules are more important in some cultures than in others.

This informality and directness may be confusing abroad. In Japan, for example, signing documents and exchanging business cards are important rituals. In Europe first names are never used without invitation. In Arab, South American, and Asian cultures, a feeling of friendship and kinship must be established before business can be transacted.

In Western cultures people are more relaxed about social status and the appearance of power[6]. Deference is not generally paid to individuals merely because of their wealth, position, seniority, or age. In many Asian cultures, however, these characteristics are important and must be respected.

The following table illustrates how small versus large power distance manifests itself in the workplace:

TABLE 3.4 Key Differences Between Small and Large Power-Distance Societies II: The Workplace
Cultures and Organizations Software of the Mind, Hofstede et al., p. 76.

3. Time Orientation

Short-term time orientation cultures consider time a precious commodity to be conserved. They correlate time with productivity, efficiency, and money. Keeping people waiting for business appointments wastes time and is also rude.

In long-term time orientation cultures, time may be perceived as an unlimited and never-ending resource to be enjoyed.

Long term in Canada means three years; in Japan long term is 30 years. Basic concepts of time can make international mergers more difficult[7].

The following table illustrates the differences in short-term and long-term time orientation:

chart showing long term vs short term time orientation
Cultures and Organizations Software of the Mind, Hofstede et al., p. 243.

Below, the Hofstede Insights group define the dimensions of high and low uncertainty avoidance, masculinity and femininity, and indulgence and restraint, a dimension that was only recently added to the five originally defined by Hofstede.

 

4. Uncertainty Avoidance [8]

The uncertainty avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. The fundamental issue here is how a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen?

Countries exhibiting strong uncertainty avoidance maintain rigid codes of belief and behaviour, and are intolerant of unorthodox behaviour and ideas. Societies with low uncertainty avoidance maintain a more relaxed attitude in which practice counts more than principles.

Strong uncertainty avoidance cultures emphasize the importance of following rules and conforming to societal norms.

The following tables illustrate how this dimension manifests itself in certain contexts:

chart showing low vs high risk avoidance at home
Cultures and Organizations Software of the Mind, Hofstede et al., p. 203.
chart showing low vs high risk avoidance in health, education and shopping
Cultures and Organizations Software of the Mind, Hofstede et al., p. 208.

5. Masculinity vs Femininity

The masculinity side of this dimension represents a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material rewards for success. Society at large is more competitive.

Femininity stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. Society at large is more consensus-oriented.

Note: The masculinity and femininity dimension is not referring to gender roles or degrees of sexism.

In the business context, masculinity versus femininity is sometimes also related to as “tough versus tender” cultures. The following table illustrates how this dimension manifests itself in the workplace:

chart showing masculine and feminine dimensions in business
Cultures and Organizations Software of the Mind, Hofstede et al., p. 170.

6. Indulgence vs Restraint

Indulgent societies allow relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun.

Restraint stands for a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.

Indulgent societies are more tolerant of members who wish to seek individual happiness and personal satisfaction.

The following tables illustrate the differences in indulgent versus restrained cultures:

chart showing indulgence versus restrained in general, personal feelings, and health
Cultures and Organizations Software of the Mind, Hofstede et al., p. 291.
chart showing indulgent vs restraint in private life, consumer behaviour, sex, and politics
Cultures and Organizations Software of the Mind, Hofstede et al., p. 297.

Comparison of four countries using Hofstede’s six dimensions of culture[9]:

Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory. Comparison of 4 countries: US, China, Germany and Brazil.

“Hofstede 4 countries 6 dimensions” by Piotrus, from Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

 

Check your Understanding of Hofstede’s Dimensions of Culture

 

Additional Resources for Understanding Hofstede’s Dimensions

  1. Try the Hofstede Insights country comparison tool! Check out these world map models to see where different regions are positioned for each of the six dimensions.
  2. The International Business Etiquette, Manners, and Culture website analyzes countries using Hofstede’s original five dimensions of culture.
  3. Read Chapter 2: The Cultural Context from a textbook called Intercultural Communication by James W. Neuliup [10].
    The chapter is about 40 pages. It contains some fun self-assessments so you can gauge what kind of culture you come from.

  1. Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G. J., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and organizations software of the mind: Intercultural cooperation and its importance for survival (3rd ed.). McGraw Hill. https://tinyurl.com/culture-orgs.
  2. Hofstede Insights (2022). National culture. https://hi.hofstede-insights.com/national-culture.
  3. Guffey, M.E., Lowey, D., Rhodes, K., & Rogin, P. (2013). Intercultural communication. In Business communication: Process & product (4th brief Canadian ed., pp. 60-77). Nelson.
  4. Gallois, C., & Callen, V. (1997). Communication and culture (p. 24). Wiley.
  5. TEDx Talks. (2012, December 30). Everything you always wanted to know about culture | Saba Safdar | TEDxGuelphU [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaOJ71czAGQ.
  6. Gallois, C., & Callen, V. (1997). Communication and culture (p. 29). Wiley.
  7. Zikmund, W. G. et al. (2008). Effective marketing (1st Canadian ed.). Nelson.
  8. Hofstede Insights. (2021). National culture. https://hi.hofstede-insights.com/national-culture.
  9. Piotrus. (2019). Hofstede 4 countries 6 dimensions. Wikimedia Commons. https://tinyurl.com/hofstede-4-6. CC BY-SA 4.0.
  10. Neuliup, J. W. (2011). The cultural context. In Intercultural communication: A contextual approach (5th ed, pp. 45-91). Sagepub. https://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/42958_2_The_Cultural_Context.pdf.

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