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Dr. Geert Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions


The following Paper and Editor's Note is reprinted courtesy of the European Business Forum, a joint initiative of the Community of European Management Schools and PricewaterhouseCoopers.


The EBFonline is an excellent resource for international managers, international business students, and business school teachers.


Are cultural differences in Europe on the decline?
by Paul Gooderham and Odd Nordhaug


Editor’s note
Between 1967 and 1973 Professor Geert Hofstede surveyed over 100,000 IBM employees in 49 different countries about their preferences in terms of work-related values. The result was a number of seminal works on cultural values and differences published during the 1980s and 1990s. These have had a profound influence on the field and practice of international management - in any undergraduate course or management seminar on the challenges of cross-national management there will be substantial reference to Hofstede.


Many scholars have since sought to complement, update and even challenge Hofstede’s original study, which is why EBF’s Editorial Board was intrigued when the following paper was submitted by Professors Paul Gooderham and Odd Nordhaug of the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration (NHH). EBF’s associate editors were not unanimous about the decision to publish after two members expressed reservations about the robustness of part of the research and the strength of claims that these results seriously challenge Hofstede’s conclusions. However, the view was taken that the paper is sufficiently interesting in its own right and that the accompanying exchange between Hofstede and the authors is also instructive. Cross-cultural management issues are of keen interest to EBF and we hope that this paper will provoke responses from other experts in the field.


In short...

Findings from new research based on a sample of students at leading European business schools indicate a significant convergence of national values. The four value dimensions of Hofstede were used as the basis of the research.


The findings show a number of important differences between male and female students, raising the question whether divisions of gender are more important than those of country. Italian and Swedish women, for example, may have more in common with each other than their fellow males.


The results for Norway raise the possibility that institutional harmonisation may be a significant determinant of cultural convergence.



Purely in terms of Europe, Hofstede’s findings indicated marked differences between its component countries. In this article we ask whether these findings for Europe retain their validity, or whether with increased political unification and exposure to global commercial forces substantial convergence has taken place since Hofstede collected his data. Not only do we ask whether national culture retains its potency in today’s Europe, but we also ask whether it is a more potent factor than gender. If that were not the case it would not only have important implications for pan- European firms, but also for our understanding of contemporary Europe.


The concept of culture

Culture refers to the systems of meaning - values, beliefs, expectations and goals - shared by members of a particular group of people and that distinguish them from members of other groups. It is a product of "the collective programming of the mind" (Hofstede, 1991), that is, it is acquired through regular interaction with other members of the group. Cultural differences can be found at many different levels, professional, class and regional, but it is particularly potent at the national level because of generations of socialisation into the national community. As individuals we generally only become aware of our own culture when confronted with another.


However, what we usually observe are the artefacts of cultural dissimilarity - the numerous and often pronounced differences in greeting rituals, dress codes, forms of address and taste. The underlying system of values is though neither readily observable nor readily comprehensible. The core differences in values between cultures go back to questions of what works for ensuring survival in relation to the natural environment. The Dutch cope with flooding, the Swiss with avalanches, the Russians and the Finns with long, cold winters.


Classifying national cultures
Dissecting and explaining any foreign culture is potentially a never-ending exercise. As an alternative to in-depth single-country studies scholars have attempted to classify cultures in relation to one another by using a few, relatively broad fundamental dimensions that are particularly relevant to management practice. This method means that cultures can be clustered, thereby pinpointing which cultures are close enough to make similar and maybe even standardised management approaches viable. We start our discussion with a presentation of Geert Hofstede’s influential, but thirty year-old findings, before presenting our results.


Hofstede’s four basic dimensions
In his survey of IBM employees, Hofstede used a questionnaire containing about 150 questions of which 20 were used to create four value dimensions along which he compared the national cultures in his sample. The four dimensions are Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Individualism-Collectivism, and Masculinity-Femininity. These are not intended to describe individuals but are descriptions of national norms or values. Let us take a closer look at each of them.


Power Distance
This dimension indicates the extent to which a society expects and accepts a high degree of inequality in institutions and organisations. In a country with a large Power Distance, organisations are characterised by formal hierarchies and by subordinates who are reluctant to challenge their superiors. The boss is very much the boss. In a country with a small Power Distance, subordinates expect to be consulted and the ideal boss is a resourceful democrat rather than a benevolent autocrat.


Examples of work-related cultural elements:


Large Power Distance
Those in power should try and look as powerful as possible. Other people are a potential threat to one’s power and can rarely be trusted.


Small Power Distance
Those in power should try and look less powerful than they are. People at various power levels feel less threatened and more prepared to trust people.


Uncertainty Avoidance
This refers to the degree to which a society prefers predictability, security and stability. In societies with high scores on this index there is an emotional need for rules, written and unwritten. Thus organisations in these societies will deploy formal rules in order to ensure that work situations are highly structured with clearly defined task roles and responsibilities. Deviant ideas and behaviours are not tolerated. Societies in which Uncertainty Avoidance is strong are also characterised by higher levels of anxiety that in turn results in a pronounced need to work hard.


Examples of work-related cultural elements:


Weak Uncertainty Avoidance
There is more willingness to take risks. Uncertain situations are acceptable.


Strong Uncertainty Avoidance
There is great concern with security in life. Career stability is needed.


This dimension relates to the extent to which people prefer to take care of themselves and their immediate families rather than being bound to some wider collectivity such as the extended family or clan. In terms of organisational life, in highly individualistic societies there will be a sharp distinction between work and personal life. Task will prevail over relationships. Also individuals will prefer work settings in which they can make their own decisions.


Examples of work-related cultural elements:


Identity is based in the social system. Order is provided by the organisation.


Identity is based in the individual. Autonomy, variety and pleasure are sought in the system.


Masculine societies value assertiveness, competitiveness and materialism as opposed to the ‘feminine’ values of relationships and the quality of life. In terms of the workplace, organisations in feminine societies will aim for harmonious relations with a strong emphasis on social partnership. In masculine societies organisations will be more task-oriented and motivation more materialistic. Individual assertiveness is acceptable and appreciated. Within nearly all societies men score higher in terms of the masculinity dimension.


Examples of work-related cultural elements:


People and the environment are important. Quality of life is what counts. Service provides the drive. One sympathises with the unfortunate.


Money and things are important. Performance is what counts. Ambition provides the drive. One admires the successful achiever.


European index scores
On the basis of mean answers of employees Hofstede assigned an index value to each country on each dimension. Table 1 (above) contains the mean index scores for eleven European countries for each of Hofstede’s four value dimensions. As the range of the index scores varies somewhat by dimension we have, in the bottom line of the table, indicated the lowest and highest scores recorded by Hofstede for all the 49 countries in his sample.


For each of the four dimensions we have, using bold type, indicated the country that is closest to the eleven-country sample mean and we refer to this as the ‘mean country.’ In addition we have asterisked those countries that are clearly different from the mean country. This is a somewhat conservative estimate on our part because Hofstede has indicated that even a five-percentage point difference can have noteworthy consequences. In the case of Power Distance, Austria and Denmark have markedly lower scores than the Netherlands, while France, Italy and Spain are all higher. The Masculinity-Femininity dimension is the dimension with the most substantial spread: five countries have clearly lower scores than the mean country Spain, and four higher. There are also substantial differences for Uncertainty Avoidance in relation to the mean country, Finland, with four countries having distinctly higher scores and three lower. Individualism is the index with the fewest clear-cut differences from the mean country. Only four countries are clearly different, two scoring substantially more and two substantially less.


Criticism of Hofstede
Hofstede’s research has been criticised on a number of counts. Tayeb (1996) objects to the methodology. The research is entirely based on an attitude-survey questionnaire, which Tayeb contends is the least appropriate way of studying culture. However, we would argue that for comparative purposes involving many countries Hofstede’s survey-based approach is highly efficient.


A second criticism is that the sample is not representative, because it is drawn from a single company comprising middle-class employees (Robinson, 1983). Hofstede’s response has been to argue that IBM employees in different countries constitute suitably matched samples so that the workvalue distance between an average IBM employee in Germany and one in the UK is equivalent to that between an average German adult and an average UK adult. The question is, though, whether IBM, which has a powerful US-derived organisation culture, may have socialised its employees so powerfully that their values do not reflect aspects of local national cultures. Hofstede’s (1994:10) riposte is to argue that work organisations are not "total institutions" and "that the values of employees cannot be changed by an employer because they were acquired when the employees were children."


Thirdly, some researchers have contended that the research on cultural dimensions conducted by Hofstede and his associates has been culturally biased (Roberts and Boyacigiller, 1984). The team comprised Europeans and Americans, whereas the studies include many countries from other parts of the world. However, in the context of this article, where the aim is to challenge Hofstede’s findings on a European basis, this does not constitute any problem.


A fourth criticism involves seeming anomalies in Hofstede’s research. For example Trompenaars’ (1997) research suggests that German corporate culture is substantially more hierarchical than Hofstede’s finding suggest.


Finally, Hofstede’s research has been criticised as being outdated (Mead, 1994). It is argued that because of globalisation younger people in particular are converging around a common set of values. Hofstede (1980, 1999) has been sceptical of this viewpoint, arguing that culture changes slowly. It is this criticism we address by presenting a study of work-related values among business school students.


The 2001 eurobusiness student survey
In the late autumn of 2000, we conducted research into work-related values using a sampling methodology akin to Hofstede’s. Instead of sampling IBM employees, we sampled students at leading European business schools belonging to the CEMS’ network (the Community of European Business Schools). Just as Hofstede argued for the cross-country comparability of IBM employees so we argue the same applies to CEMS schools. The 1,335 respondents to the questionnaire were drawn from eleven CEMS schools in as many countries: Austria, Denmark, Great Britain, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden. Only nationals of these countries were included. Because Hofstede’s sample for IBM Germany was derived from West Germany, strictly speaking we should have for Germany excluded or at least controlled for students from the former east. We chose not to do so, reasoning that the location of the school in Cologne is sufficient to maintain the parallel with Hofstede’s research. Nearly forty per cent of the sample comprised females and their ages ranged from 19 to 26.


The questionnaire contained fourteen items that closely reflect the examples of the work-related cultural elements comprising Hofstede’s dimensions listed above. The items were derived from two main types of question. The first of these was:

How important do you think the following competences are for a person to be a good manager? (scale: 1-5):

The ability to command/control others. Power-related political skills.


The other twelve items (see Table 2) were derived from the question:
What importance do you attach to the following factors when choosing your first post-graduation job? (scale: 1-5).


The mean responses to the 14 items, grouped according to each of the four basic culture dimensions, are listed in Table 2.


Additive indexes were then formed for each of the four dimensions. Each of these were tested for internal consistency (Cronbach’s Alpha test) and found to be satisfactory. While the Power Distance index ranges between a minimum of two and ten, the other indexes range from four to 20. The results are displayed in Table 3.


In assessing whether there are substantial differences between the various countries, we again took the country closest to the mean for each of the four dimensions as the basis for comparison. Thereafter we examined for differences between the base line country and the other countries employing a conservative test for statistically significant differences: i.e. differences at the one per cent level.


A significant continuity between our research and that of Hofstede’s is to be found in regard to the mean countries. Both in the case of Masculinity-Femininity and Uncertainty Avoidance our mean countries are identical to Hofstede’s, i.e. Spain and Finland respectively. For Power Distance Hofstede’s mean country, the Netherlands, remains very close to the mean. In the case of Individualism Hofstede’s mean country Norway is not significantly different from that of our mean country, Great Britain.


In terms of the Power Distance dimension, Norway, Finland and Denmark all score significantly less than the mean country, Italy. These findings are fairly consistent with those of Hofstede. Indeed, with two notable exceptions, that of Austria and Germany, our findings are generally consistent with his results. According to Hofstede, Austria is a very low Power Distance country, with Germany somewhat lower than the mean. Our findings suggest the opposite. Moreover, our finding for Germany is consistent with that of Trompenaars.


Spain is the mean country in terms of the Masculinity dimension. In terms of whether the countries score higher or lower in relation to Spain, the findings are, with the exception of Sweden, broadly similar to those of Hofstede. However, there is a notable difference: only Norway and Italy differ significantly from Spain. Thus the substantial differences between Spain on the one hand and, according to Hofstede, the highly masculine countries of Great Britain, Germany and Austria are greatly diminished. The same applies to Hofstede’s feminine countries, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. As such our image of Europe is very much more convergent in terms of this dimension than is that of Hofstede.


The notion of a largely convergent Europe is given more impetus when one looks at the findings for the Uncertainty Avoidance and Individualism dimensions. France differs significantly from the mean country Finland in terms of Uncertainty Avoidance. Beyond that though there are no significant differences. Clearly this is a very different Europe to that which Hofstede mapped.


Our findings for Uncertainty Avoidance differ from those of Hofstede in other ways. Most notably, France has moved from being relatively high in terms of this index to low whereas Great Britain and Sweden appear to have moved in the opposite direction. Finally, in terms of Individualism it is interesting to note that Great Britain’s relatively high position in Hofstede’s findings is reduced to the European average.


Is gender or culture most important?
In relation to most of the components of the four indexes Table 2 indicates that there are a number of significant differences between male and female business school students. The question is then whether differences in contemporary European work-values are more divided in terms of gender than in terms of country. We have looked into this question by performing an ANOVA-analysis of differences for gender and country. The results are summarised in Table 4 (See previous page).


The table indicates that country is a significant differentiator for Power Distance and the degree of Masculinity. However, gender is also a significant differentiator in terms of the latter dimension. Moreover, whereas gender based differences are significant for Uncertainty Avoidance and Individualism-Collectivism, country-based differences are not. In other words, in today’s Europe, on the whole gender is a more powerful tool for predicting work-related cultural differences than is nationality.


Concluding comments
In terms of nationality our findings indicate a significant convergence of values across Europe. It might be argued that when they enter the work place the values of our sample of young people might change. To this we would reply as Hofstede has done that the values acquired prior to entering the work place are relatively stable. In other words the cohort we have mapped is substantially different to that of Hofstede’s.


Globalisation is a multi-faceted concept. It involves not only increased trade and an increased scope for multinational companies but also the dissemination of ideas and values. In the case of Europe there is the added impetus of the European Union. It is interesting to note that our findings indicate that Norway, which has refused to join the Union, diverges significantly from the mean on two of the four dimensions. Clearly it would be interesting to extend our work to other advanced economies outside the European Union to determine whether the European project of increased institutional harmonisation can be shown to be a determinant of cultural convergence.


Our findings have particular relevance for the design of management systems. Hofstede (1980, 1999) has consistently contended that management systems are nationally idiosyncratic and that attempts to apply management systems across borders are courting failure. However, our findings imply that there is increasing scope for pan-European management systems.


Finally, there is the relative importance of gender. In terms of two of the dimensions our findings suggest that Italian women have more in common with their Swedish counterparts than with their fellow national males. It is not unreasonable to speculate that with the increasing importance of European Union political institutions some of the future political movements in Europe could reflect this divide.



Hofstede, G. (1980). ‘Motivation, leadership, and organization: Do American theories apply
abroad?’ Organizational Dynamics (Summer).

Hofstede, G. (1991/1997). ‘Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind.’ New York:

Hofstede, G. (1994). ‘The business of international business is culture’. International Business
Review, 3(1), 1-14.

Hofstede, G. (1999). ‘Problems remain, but theories will change. The universal and the specific
in 21st century global management.’ Organizational Dynamics (summer), 28(1), 34-44.

Mead, R. (1994). ‘International Management. Cross-Cultural Dimensions.’ Oxford:Blackwell.

Roberts, K.H. and Boyacigiller, N.A. (1984). ‘Cross-national organizational research:
the grasp of the blinded men.’ Research in Organizational Behavior, 6, 425-476.

Robinson, R. (1983). ‘Culture’s Consequences.’ Book review. Work and Occupations,
10 (1), 110-115.

Tayeb, M.H. (1996). ‘Hofstede.’ In Warner, M. (ed.), International Encyclopaedia of Business
and Management. London: Thompson Press, vol. 2, 1771-6.

Trompenaars, F. and Hampden-Turner, C. (1997). ‘Riding the Waves of Culture.’ London:
Nicholas Brealey Publishing. 2nd edition.
Paul Gooderham and Odd Nordhaug are both full professors in the Department of Management and Strategy at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration (NHH - CEMS member school). The authors wish to thank the Norwegian Business Symposium at NHH for their cooperation in the collection of data.



The above Paper and Editor's Note is reprinted courtesy of the European Business Forum, a joint initiative of the Community of European Management Schools and PricewaterhouseCoopers.


The EBFonline is an excellent resource for international managers, international business students, and business school teachers.



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. . .


From 1967 to 1973, while working at IBM as a psychologist, Geert Hofstede collected and analyzed data from over 100,000 individuals from 50 countries and 3 regions


Subsequent studies validating the earlier results have included commercial airline pilots and students in 23 countries, civil service managers in 14 counties, 'up-market' consumers in 15 countries and 'elites' in 19 countries.


From the initial results, and later additions, Dr. Hofstede developed a model that identified four primary Dimensions to assist in differentiating cultures: Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, and Uncertainty Avoidance.


Geert Hofstede added a fifth Dimension after conducting an additional international study with a survey instrument developed with Chinese employees and managers.


That Dimension, based on Confucian dynamism, is Long-Term Orientation and was applied to 23 countries.



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