- Surveying Postmaterialism
From his base at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, Ronald Inglehart has carried out a series of investigations “for analyzing the influence of mass publics on political and social life” that are unrivaled in their combined extent of international coverage, range and complexity of subject matter, and continuity of focus over time. As early as 1970, he had introduced his measure of “postmaterialism” into the Eurobarometer Surveys, which have continuously measured that quality among European populations down into the 1990s. The first “World Values Survey” was mounted in 24 countries between 1981 and 1984, to be followed by a second wave in 1991–93 which sampled the populations of 43 nations, some 22 of which were in the earlier survey.
Since a number of individuals and organizations supported the research, it inevitably reflected multiple interests, but for Inglehart a single purpose is clearly and persistently at the center of attention. His objective is to establish that “culture,” by which he means mainly popular attitudes and values, is a major determinant of the political and economic development of nations. The idea is of course not new. Inglehart offers due obeisance to Max Weber, and notes the contribution of Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, although he fails to give adequate weight to the critical role their pioneering work played in laying the foundation on which his own research rests. He also acknowledges [End Page 175] that theorists seeking to explain democracy have stressed the important role that interpersonal trust and tolerance for minorities play in the consolidation and stabilization of democratic systems. Yet empirical research that permits linking individuals’ attitudes to the functioning of democratic institutions was limited in quality and depth, he complains, and was usually available only for a small number of already democratic countries. This new data base permits much more systematic investigation, he adds, and could even permit the resolution of many long-debated issues in the study of political and social life.
After factor analysis of his large body of data, Inglehart finds that two major dimensions, essentially two polarities, effectively organize the diverse attitudes and values of the national populations under study. One he considers an “authority” dimension: At the pole he labels traditional are people who want many children and stress obedience in raising them; think God and religion are important; and have religious faith and take pride in their nation. At the other pole, labeled secular-rational, are those who more favor divorce and abortion; stress thrift, determination, and responsibility in their children; and are interested in and discuss politics. The second dimension has at one pole what are called survival values, although the appropriateness of the label is not evident from the fact that it includes a tendency to reject outgroups and the idea that a woman needs children to be fulfilled. The other pole is called well-being, and it includes the belief that leisure is important; a stress on imagination as the desired quality in children; and a measure of “postmaterialist values,” about which we will hear more.
When the countries covered by the World Values Survey are mapped onto the space defined by these two dimensions, certain relatively clear and not altogether surprising patterns emerge. Grouped regionally, the nations of northern Europe, and those that are historically Protestant, cluster at the very high end on well-being and are moderately high on secular-rational authority. The more Catholic countries, also more southern, are less far along on the well-being dimension and are relatively closer to the traditional pole on the authority dimension. To Inglehart, what is most notable is that the richer countries tend to be clustered at the juncture of well-being and secular authority, while the poorer nations are found at the more extreme end of the traditional authority measure and are grouped near the survival pole.
To assess how all this relates to democratization, Inglehart focuses on a measure of the number of years of continuous democracy a nation enjoyed between 1920 and 1995. He concludes from...