Individualism on the Rise

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Individualism on the Rise

For at least three centuries, individualism has been on the rise in Western countries.  But new research indicates that increasing individualism is a global phenomenon. A new study, published in the journal Psychological Science, is just the latest showing that increasing socioeconomic development is an especially strong factor behind increasingly individualistic practices and values in a country, over time.

Much of the research on rising individualism, as reflected in increasing narcissism and higher divorce rates has focused on the United States.  However, the new findings show that this pattern also applies to other countries that are not Western or even industrialized. And, while there still seem to be cross-national differences in terms of individualism vs. collectivism, the data indicate that most countries are moving towards greater individualism.

Drawing from national census data and data collected for the World Values Survey, the researchers examined 51 years’ worth of data detailing individualist practices and values in a total of 78 countries.

In general, individualist cultures tend to conceive of people as self-directed and autonomous, and they tend to prioritize independence and uniqueness as cultural values. Collectivist cultures, on the other hand, tend to see people as connected with others and embedded in a broader social context.  As such, they tend to emphasize interdependence, family relationships, and social conformity.

To measure individualistic practices across cultures, the researchers examined data on household size, divorce rates, and proportion of people living alone.  To measure individualistic values, they examined data on the importance that people place on friends versus family, how important people believe it is to teach children to be independent, and the degree to which people prioritize self-expression as a national goal.

They also looked at data on specific sociological and environmental factors -- including the level of socioeconomic development, disaster frequency, incidence of infectious disease, and extreme temperatures in each country -- to determine whether those might account for any shifts in individualism over time.

Overall, the results showed a clear pattern: Both individualistic practices and values have increased across the globe. Specifically, statistical models indicated that individualism has increased by about 12% worldwide since 1960.

Only four countries -- Cameroon, Malawi, Malaysia, and Mali -- showed a substantial decrease in individualistic practices over the 51 years, while 34 out of 41 countries showed a notable increase...

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