In this article, I will focus on the following topics within understanding “What is Individualism.

  • What is individualism
  • What is collectivism
  • Individualistic culture or individualistic society

First, let’s start with a definition when answering the question What is Individualism?

“The belief that the needs of each person are more important than the needs of the whole society or group”

An individualistic culture will put the emphasis on viewing the world like this; the I is more important than the We.

A collectivistic culture will put the emphasis on putting the group before the individual. With this, I have also put a definition on answering the question What is Collectivism.

Individualism is the second dimension that Hofstede describes out of the first four dimensions of culture (the other three are Power distance, Masculinity, and Uncertainty Avoidance). n the other side from Individualism, you can find Collectivism.

So,on the other side of an individualistic culture, you can find a collectivistic culture.

Another way of looking at Individualism and Collectivism is to think about this dimension as We (collectivistic) oriented versus I (Individualistic) oriented. So now let’s start answering the question What is Individualism and what is collectivism, but then in a more practical way.

 

Can I Ask You…?

Let’s start with a Question:

“How do You respect your neighbor?”What is Individualism and what is collectivism

Simple question to answer right? Although your answer will vary depending on your culture.

In an Individualistic culture (mainly Western Europe, North America, and Australia & New Zealand), the answer will be something like: “I’ll keep my distance“, or “I’ll leave them to themselves“.

In a more Collectivistic country (pretty much the rest of the world!) the answer will be different. Of course people in Collectivistic cultures will also keep their distance, but the ties that people have and keep as neighbors will be much stronger (also over time) as in an Individualistic society.

To put it Simple (which it never is):

  • An Individualistic culture: My loyalty lies with me first. Nuclear families; yourself, your parents and your children.
  • A Collectivistic culture: My loyalty lies with my group first. Extended families; brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins nephews etc.

 

So What is Individualism and What is Collectivism in Detail:

What is Individualism (characteristics)?

  • Me, myself & I (as opposed of “We” thinking)
  • Own opinion is important (over the general group opinion)
  • Direct communication (I ask a question and would like a direct answer)
  • loss of self-respect, guilt
  • Task over relationship (this does not mean that relationships are unimportant, it’s just that the importance lies at the task at hand and less on the level of relationship)

 

What is Collectivism (characteristics)?

  • We versus them (In-group versus Out-group: if you’re part of “this” group, you’re not part of the “other” group)
  • Group opinion is important (versus one’s own opinion; this does not mean of course that people from Collectivistic cultures have no opinion of their own. It is just that the opinion of the group is more important)
  • Indirect communication (one of the most difficult issues to deal with when working with people from Collectivistic cultures: not getting a direct answer (in the eyes of the individual from the individualistic culture))
  • Loss of “face“, shame (if you analyze the literal words in “Loss of face“, you’ll see that you can only lose your face in the presence of others, in other words, in a “Collective” of other people)
  • Relationship over task (the relationships that one has prevails over the task; tasks are not unimportant, the relationship you have with someone else is just more important)

 

Examples of Countries Scoring High on Individualism (Individualistic Culture)

  • United States (highest scoring in Hofstede’s model of cultural dimensions)
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • Netherlands
  • Nordic countries
  • France
  • Australia & New Zealand

 

Examples of Countries Scoring Low on Individualism (Collectivistic Culture)

  • Russia
  • Greece
  • Guatemala (lowest scoring country in Hofstede’s model of cultural dimensions)
  • Nigeria
  • Indonesia
  • India
  • China

There are many more countries that are Collectivistic than there are that are countries that are Individualistic. It is safe to say that about 20% of the World’s population is Individualistic, the rest would be (relatively) Collectivistic.

Below is a video that Illustrates another typical Individualistic trait: Personal Space. In an Individualistic Culture people “value” their Personal space a lot. Take a look.

Did you find this article on individualism and culture helpful? Please share it using the social media buttons on this page!


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Chris Smit

I'm passionate about Cultural Difference. I have been helping organizations save time and money when they work Internationally for the last 19 years. I have had the fortunate opportunity to hold lectures, workshops, and consulting projects on this subject World Wide. It has made me understand my own culture much better, and appreciate the differences around the world.
I have a Master's Degree in Organisational Psychology and have lived in the USA, the Netherlands and, currently, in Belgium.
Thank you!

Chris Smit
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