There is an enormous number of studies in the world aimed at analyzing the populations of different countries, regions, and areas through various prisms, such as social, political, economic, religious, and cultural ones. This type of data grants the ability to explain the actions and nature of people and societies, and to build theories about similarities and differences between populations. Political scientists, sociologists, social psychologists, anthropologists, economists, and numerous representatives of other occupations are incredibly interested in the collection and analysis of such information. However, as most of the studies conducted throughout history contain either geographic or content boundaries, focusing their attention only on certain regions of the world or only on certain fields of knowledge, it is challenging to compare societies from different parts of the world comprehensively. This issue was addressed in 1981 by Professor Ronald Inglehart from the University of Michigan within the framework of his ambitious project, World Values Survey (WVS).
The World Values Survey is an international research program, aimed to analyze people’s values, beliefs, and norms from a comparative cross-national and over-time perspective. In order to reach this end, the project covers a broad scope of topics from the fields of Sociology, Political Science, International Relations, Economics, Public Health, Demography, Anthropology, Social Psychology, etc. Besides, the WVS is hitherto the only academic study that covers the whole scope of global variations, from very poor to very rich societies in all the main cultural zones of the world. The project grew out of the European Values Study (1981) and since its start, it has been operational in more than 120 world societies. The main research instrument of the project is a representative comparative social survey, which is conducted globally every five years. At the moment, the WVS is the largest non-commercial cross-national empirical time-series investigation of human beliefs and values ever conducted. The WVS data is extensively used by governments around the world, scholars, students, journalists and international organizations [World Values Survey, n.d].
The WVS data analysis by political scientists Ronald Inglehart asserts that there are two major dimensions of cross-cultural variation in the world: traditional values versus secular-rational values, and survival values versus self-expression values. The global cultural map designed as a result of the studies shows how scores of societies are located in two dimensions. Moving upward reflects the shift from traditional values to secular-rational and moving rightward reflects the shift from survival values to self–expression values. Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority and traditional family values. People who embrace these values also reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook. Secular-rational values are associated with a lesser emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable. Survival values emphasize economic and physical security. It is linked with a relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance. Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, increasing tolerance of foreigners, sexual minorities and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life [World Values Survey, n.d].
Kazakhstan has only participated in two waves of the survey so far, in 2011 and 2018, and it mostly remained in the same position, without much change. The position that Kazakhstan takes on the map can be generally described as neutral, only being skewed a little more towards traditional than secular values and more significantly towards survival compared to self-expression values. Overall, Kazakhstan is still situated in the bottom left quarter, which, following the basic correlation observed on the map, is associated with poorer and less developed nations. The bottom left quarter is mostly represented by so-called African-Islamic countries but it also includes countries of Latin America, Orthodox Europe, West and South Asia. The majority of countries in the quarter are developing nations with relatively low standards of living and relatively weak economies, with some outstanding exceptions such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Kazakhstan, being situated in the upper part of the quarter, close to its borders, actually belongs to the “Orthodox Europe” sector of the map of values. This placement reflects the fact that Kazakhstan, as it was demonstrated by the results of two waves of the research, is closer to the countries of Eastern Europe in terms of values and beliefs of the population, than to its immediate geographical neighbors. Within the framework of the map of values, the closest neighbors of Kazakhstan are Romania, Bosnia and Armenia. At the moment, the differences between four countries are significant as they have drastically different economic, political, social, and demographic situations. Only one country from this list, Kazakhstan, possesses vast stocks of natural resources; yet the economy of Romania is leading in terms of GDP per capita [World Bank, n.d.]. Moreover, Romania is also placed higher than other “neighboring countries” in the Democracy Index list, whereas Armenia takes second place and Bosnia holds the third one [Economist Intelligence Unit, 2020]. The gaps between the four countries in the list are quite significant. However, one common historical factor that influenced all of these countries is a communist past, with the Soviet Union playing a crucial role in it. Nevertheless, the fact that Kazakhstan’s “neighbors” on the value map are in general considered to be more democratic can reflect the relevant wishes and moods of the local society. However, between the two waves of the survey, hardly any changes for the local population in terms of values and beliefs have occurred Meanwhile, for some other countries, the pace of changes was much higher. For example, in 2011, Armenia was more conservative and more religious than Kazakhstan but it has dramatically shortened the gap in terms of secular-rational values in seven years. Post-Soviet Slavic countries are another example of rapid changes, as they have quickly shifted from the far left survival values closer to the middle of the map, towards self-expression values between 2011 and 2018. The slow pace of change can be rather alarming, as it is the sign of less advanced countries, according to the correlation visible across different waves of the research.
Other Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are leaning much more towards traditional values compared to Kazakhstan and stay at more or less the same level in terms of survival vs. self-expression values, therefore being allocated to the middle right part of the same quarter. The closest neighbors in terms of values to the mentioned Central Asian countries are Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and some African countries, such as Rwanda and Burkina Faso. For Kyrgyzstan, there is a strong trend of moving downwards, towards more traditional values between 2011 and 2018.
Post-soviet Slavic countries, such as Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are situated in the same geo-cultural part of the map as Kazakhstan, Orthodox European countries. However, this trio is significantly more secular than Kazakhstan and leaning a little more towards the values of self-expression on average. These three countries were as close culturally as they were geographically in 2018, forming a small triangle in the upper left corner of the map. The closest neighbors of these countries on the cultural map are Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria. As it was mentioned earlier, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus progressed significantly towards self-expression values between the sixth and seventh waves of the survey. Moreover, Belarus has simultaneously shifted significantly towards traditional values.
Despite some exceptions and outliers, such as Singapore, China and South Korea, the overall correlation that can be spotted on the map demonstrates the economic, social and political systems’ superiority, growing with the movement of the country to the top-right direction, towards secular and self-expression values. Correlation doesn’t imply causation and the connection between prosperity and culture is much deeper and more complicated than just following the path of Western liberal democracies. However, the overall advantages of progressing towards higher secular-rationalism and self-expression are self-evident, as they raise the levels of tolerance, participation in the governance of the state, personal freedoms and environmental protection. In many cases, these cultural traits are the products of the growing wealth of the nations [Inglehart, and Welzel, 2009]. However, culture doesn’t only have to be a product of other processes, as it can also be implemented through tools as education, which itself can be a factor of influence [Soumya, 2020]. Therefore, it is important to understand that while economic and political development play significant roles in a nation’s prosperity, they are not the only tools for achieving success. The promotion of cultural values and beliefs that ensure higher levels of inclusivity, freedoms and civic participation can also positively affect the economic, social and political dimensions of development.
Economist Intelligence Unit. (2020). Democracy Index 2019. A year of democratic setbacks and popular protest. Retrieved from http://www.eiu.com/Handlers/WhitepaperHandler.ashx?fi=Democracy-Index-2019.pdf&mode=wp&campaignid=democracyindex2019 Accessed on: 16.12.2020.
Inglehart R., Welzel C. (2009). How Development Leads to Democracy: What We Know About Modernization. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20699492 Accessed on: 22.12.2020.
Soumya M. (2020). Role of Education in Transmitting Culture in Society. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339816271_Role_of_Education_in_Transmitting_Culture_in_Society Accessed on: 16.12.2020.
World Bank. (n.d). GDP per capita (current US$) Kazakhstan, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Armenia. Retrieved from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD?locations=BA-KZ-RO-AM&view=chart Accessed on: 15.12.2020.
World Values Survey (n.d.). Findings and Insights. Retrieved from http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSContents.jsp Accessed on: 15.12.2020.
World Values Survey (n.d.). Who we are. Retrieved from http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSContents.jsp Accessed on: 15.12.2020.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Nadirova Gulnar Ermuratovna graduated from the Oriental Faculty of Leningrad State University, in 1990 she defended her thesis on the Algerian literature at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, in 2006 doctoral thesis - on modern Tunisian literature at the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, Professor.