18 Jan

Map of the Week: The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map

By: Alexandra Kicior

The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map replaces geography with another type of closeness: cultural values. Each dot represents a country, the position of which is based on how it ranks on two different values. The dots are congregated together into various geo-cultural groups, including Catholic Europe, Protestant Europe, the Orthodox world, the three Baltic states, the English-speaking world, the huge African-Islamic world, Latin America, South Asia, and the Confucian world. The placement of the dots indicates cultural proximity or distance. Some countries from different groups can be more similar than other countries in the same group. 

The map is part of the World Values Survey (WVS), first conducted by political scientist Ronald Inglehart in the late 1990s. Together with his colleague Christian Welzel, he produced an update in 2005, and the WVS has been revised several times since, most recently in 2023. The two axes on the map reflect the two fundamental dimensions to cross-cultural variation across the world, as outlined by the WVS. The X-axis measures survival versus self-expression values. Survival values focus on economic and physical security, where there is not much room for trust and tolerance of others. Self-expression values prioritize well-being, quality of life, and self-expression, and there is more room for tolerating ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. 

The Y-axis measures traditional versus secular-rational values. Traditional values involve deference to religion and parental authority as well as traditional social and family values. Societies that score high on traditions are typically also highly nationalistic. In more secular-rational societies, which hold value including high tolerance of things like divorce, abortion, and euthanasia, science and bureaucracy replace faith as the basis for authority.  

Thus, moving upward on the map reflects the shift from traditional values to secular-rational and moving rightward reflects the shift from survival values to self-expression values. A simple analysis might conclude that with an increase in standards of living and with the transition from a developing country to a post-industrial society via industrialization, a country tends to move diagonally in the direction from the lower-left corner (poor) to the upper-right corner (rich). However, the attitudes among the population are also strongly correlated with the philosophical, political, and religious ideas that dominate a country. Secular-rational values and materialism were formulated by philosophers and left-wing thinkers during the French Revolution, and can consequently be observed especially in countries with a long history of social democratic or socialistic policy. Survival values are characteristic for eastern-world countries and self-expression values for western-world countries. In a liberal post-industrial economy, an increasing share of the population has grown up taking survival and freedom of thought for granted and as a result, self-expression is highly valued. 

Societies that have high scores in traditional and survival values include Zimbabwe, Morocco, Jordan, and Bangladesh. Societies with high scores in traditional and self-expression values include the U.S., most of Latin America, and Ireland. Societies with high scores in secular-rational and self-expression values include Sweden, Norway, Japan, Benelux, Germany, France, Switzerland, and some English-speaking countries.