XIII. Individualism versus collectivism

Individualism is

„the opposite of collectivism; together they form on of the dimensions of national cultures. Individualism stands for a society in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after himself or herself and his or her immediate family only.“ *10


„stands for a society in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong cohesive ingroups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.“ *11

Individualistic cultures like USA (highest score = 1st rank) and France (10th rank) are more self-centred and emphasize mostly on their individual goals. People from individualistic cultures tend to think only of themselves as individuals and as „I“ distinctive from other people.They make just a little different between ingroup and outgroup communication (USA). They prefer clarity in their conversations to communicate more effectively and come in general directly to the point like the Finns (17th rank) and Americans are doing. An exception here are Germans (15th rank) who indeed are an individualistic culture but their communication style is different. First details will be named and discussed and after that they will come to the point. Americans and Finns might feel annoyed because they say first what it is about and explain afterwards.

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People in individualistic cultures emphasize their success/achievements in job or private wealth and aiming up to reach more and/or a better job position. Especially in the USA the fight about jobs and trying to climb up in the hierarchy ladder is something very common there. It just counts to get there less caring who will left behind one. In business they try to improve their connections and to gain more value out of them, not for establishing a good relationship but just to be involved in a calculative way. Employees are expected to defend their interests and to promote themselves when ever possible.

Asian – collectivist cultures like China (Hong Kong 37th rank), view other companies with less collectivistic philosophy as cold and not supportive. Collectivistic cultures have a great emphasize on groups and think more in terms of „we“. Harmony and loyalty within a company is very important and should always be maintained and confrontation should be avoided. In China it is out of question to disagree with someone’s opinion in public. You will do that in a more private and personal atmosphere to protect a person from the „loss of face“. In collectivistic cultures a direct confrontation will be always avoided. Expressions or phrases are used which describe a disagreement or negative statement instead of saying no. Saying no would mean to destroy the harmony in the group. The relationship between employer and employee or business partners is based on trust and harmony and a deep understanding of moral values. The wealth of the company and the groups inside are more important than the individual one’s. David Yaou-Fai Ho, a Hong Kong social scientist defines „Loosing face as follows:

„Face is lost when the individual, either through his action or that people closely related to him, fails to meet essential requirements placed upon him by virtue of the social position he occupies.“ (Hofstede, 1976, page 867) This can be compared with „self-respect“ in individualistic cultures. There is understanding and help for employees who have poor performance. *12

„Christopher Earley, an American management researcher, gave 48 management trainees from southern China and a matched group of 48 management trainees from the USA an ‚in-basket-task‘ consisting of 40 separate items requiring between two and five minutes each (Earley, 1989). The task involved such activities as writing memos evaluating plans and rating job candidates‘ application forms. Half of the participants from each country were given an individual goal of 20 items; the other half were given a group goal of 200 items to be completed in one hour by 10 people. In addition, half of the participants from either country, both from the group and from the individual goal subsets, were asked to mark each item with their name; the other half turned them in anonymously. The Chinese, collectivist, participants performed best when operating with a group goal and anonymously. They performed worst when operating with individually and with their name marked on their work. The individualist American participants performed best when operating individually and with their work attributed to them personally, and performed very poorly when operating as a group and anonymously.“ *13

*10 „Cultures and Organizations – Intercultural Cooperation and its importance for survival“ Hofstede, Geert (1994), page 261

*11 „Cultures and Organizations – Intercultural Cooperation and its importance for survival“ Hofstede, Geert (1994) , page 260

*12 „Cultures and Organizations – Intercultural Cooperation and its importance for survival“ Hofstede, Geert (1994), page 61

*13 Box 2.3 Difference in work ethos between an individualist and a collectivist society, „Managing Cultural Differences: Strategies for Competitive Advantage“ by Lisa Hoecklin 1995, page 37

35 Gedanken zu „XIII. Individualism versus collectivism

  • Januar 26, 2010 um 6:04 am

    thanks for the web site

  • Februar 17, 2010 um 8:38 am

    Content is good and informative. Helped me in giving a talk on individualistic and collectivistic cultures.

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  • März 22, 2010 um 6:38 am

    The article provides a great explanation on the difference between individualism and collectivism.

    The advantage of individualism to business is the ‚freedom of speech‘. Individualism provides a good check-and-balance as everybody’s opinions are heard. The disadvantage would be self-centeredness and the weak gets pushed around

    Collectivism on the other hand provides a strong harmony, teamwork and minimizes confrontations. On the negative side, collectivism lacks creativity and openness to opinions. It comes to a saying, „if the whole boat is sailing on the wrong direction, eveybody will too‘

    Which is better? Well it depends, individualism has proven to benefit western corporations in today’s world. Collectivism on the other hand benefited the islamic civilization 1000 years back.

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  • Januar 15, 2011 um 9:12 am

    Thank you for this website. I gained a lot of helpful information that helped me with a talk that I will be giving to my classmates. Personally, I think that collectivism is more important than individualism. Helping more than just a single person gives better benefits than helping ONE person, right?

  • März 9, 2011 um 6:49 am

    Where can you find the rankings? Is there a credible source that lists that rankings of individualistic / collectivist societies? I understand what each society is composed of but how does one go about defining which nations fits into which category and who decides this?

    • März 9, 2011 um 4:16 pm

      most information on ranking or categorizing the 4 dimensions are based on books from Geert Hofstede. there you should find the necessary information.

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  • April 18, 2011 um 10:04 am

    Thanks for the web site,it’s very useful

  • Juni 15, 2011 um 1:00 pm

    If you don’t mind having to cowtow to the higher ranking member in your group then go with collectivism, as there is no respect for the individual’s opinions as it is only consensus that will count.

    But if you wish to be an individual who thinks that one’s opinions, thoughts, goals, and more, are more important to the person, then individualism is for you.
    Of course even in individualism, individuals can still form groups, however it is much easier to break off when the reason for grouping together ends.

  • Juli 2, 2011 um 6:40 pm

    Wow, I read the first two paragraphs and stopped right there. That is a pretty biased text, written from american (or western) perspective.
    Sentences like „They prefer clarity in their conversations to communicate more effectively and come in general directly to the point“ made me stop reading.
    From the perspective of a chinese person, the „individualistic“ countries do not speak more clarly and especially more effectively. That is pretty biased and egocentric to say that „They (collectivists) do not communicate effectively while we (americans… oops, individualists) are so much more effective communicators“
    It’s a question of culture and perspective.
    By the way, Germans are famous to be direct. So what was that statement about?

    • Juli 12, 2011 um 5:43 pm

      All articles are based on sources from various books especially from the author Geert Hofstede and Trompenaars and do not reflect a personal opinion. Your personal opinions and valuable for the readers of this website since cultures change over the years.

  • Juli 28, 2011 um 8:59 pm

    Hello. May I know when this was published?

    • Dezember 22, 2011 um 6:27 pm

      I wrote this paper in 1999 during my studies in Virrat/Finland at Pirkanmaa Politechnic and published it about in 2000 online.

  • Dezember 18, 2011 um 9:54 am

    The article provides quite a lot information on the difference between Individualism and Collectivism. I’d like to add to some more. Take the example of attitides toward executive compensation. The ratio of annual compensation for executives compared to line employees in the manufacturing sectours of highly individualistic tultures such as the United States and South Africa is far more disproportionate than in highly collectivist societies like Japan. Most businesses in Arab societies, where the collectivist culture is dominant, place far grester valer on the loyalty of employees than they do on efficiency.

  • Januar 30, 2012 um 3:10 am

    I agree that Germans were not direct to the point at least during the Hitler’s era,they gave their allegiance to the Nazi party & Hitler himself,they migrated from individualism & for a while became collectivist just to appease the fuhrer in spite of his atrocities in Europe!!and I think the roots of that kind of behavior still exist underlying the German society today.or Iranians and Russians have had 2 or 3 revolutions each in past 100 years but they still are in the first place,they can’t break away from dictatorship because the whole societies are built on collectivism ideas,they end up replacing one dictator with another one.
    thanks for reading

  • Februar 5, 2012 um 3:28 pm

    Thank you so much for this informative website, it helps me to prepare myself for the exam on friday (interculturelle communication) 🙂

    Kind regards from germany

    • Februar 15, 2012 um 4:02 pm

      Hi Linny,
      You are welcome! Ich hoffe die Prüfung ist gut verlaufen!
      Best regards,

  • Februar 17, 2012 um 1:32 am

    I am looking for some of the commonalities that collectivism and individualism share; can anybody help me out?

  • Februar 24, 2012 um 11:14 pm

    I just did a research paper on Hofstede’s dimensions of national culture and this is a re-hashed piece of one of his articles on individualism vs. collectivism. Make sure you cite his work properly.

    • März 2, 2012 um 12:42 pm

      Hi Tyler, yes some cites got lost. Maybe you can point me to the page within Hofstede’s book so I can cite correctly. Thanks for helping.

  • März 17, 2012 um 5:05 am

    A form of Government that repudiates Individualism is a Statist governent. As you state IndividualIsm is the opposite of Collectivism. I am afraid Great Britain now appears to be governed under what is in essence a Statist form of government which rejects Individualism and embraces Collectivism. Which again as you state correctly………Collectivism stands for a society in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong cohesive ingroups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.” the trouble with a Statist government it also restricts freedom of speech and that is where the Ideological police or thought Police are employed.

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  • Juli 29, 2012 um 11:12 am

    „People in individualistic cultures emphasize their success/achievements in job or private wealth and aiming up to reach more and/or a better job position.“ Hofstede emphasizes strongly that the Dutch score as very individualistic but are not concerned about achievement, money and such as others with of their relatively strong femininity scores. The Japanese favor integration first, but competition secondly in Jun Onishi’s „Asian ways of managing conflict“

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  • Januar 22, 2013 um 5:57 pm

    In actual reality, groups are not real only individuals are. A „group“ is a fantasized abstraction created from an arbitrary association of individuals. Take any so-called group and examine it more closely and you will find within it wide variances in terms of the individuals in that group. Anyone with brothers and sisters can confirm that fact.

    Anyone with any common sense knows that to characterize all black people or Chinese people or Americans as being this particular way or that particular way is a totally silly perception. All black people, Chinese or Americans do not share the same mind sets, opinions and views. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find two individuals who agree on everything, sometimes anything, which is why most systems set up on the collectivist model need to rely upon coercion through laws and the police and military which ultimately makes use of a tyranical government to make the model work.

    There are only individuals with individual rights. Groups are false constructions that when examined more closely fall apart.

    What is really at issue here is the rights of the individual and their personal freedom. The more collectivist the model, the less rights and personal freedoms for the individual. This can easily be demonstrated by comparing the Bill of Rights which says Congress shall make no law vs. the UN Charter which disperses rights by law.

    The assumption under the Bill of Rights is that individuals have natural or God given rights whose function it is for government to protect, not disperse nor control. Unfortunately, in the past 100 years, the orginal frame has been destroyed by a creeping and now galloping government grab of personal rights.

    On the other hand, the UN Charter says we guarantee your rights by law. Since laws are created by them, they are also controlled by them through a change of the law. This is the same mentality and system instituted in collectivist models like Communism, Nazism and Facism where the State controls the rights and the people as in Communist China and Russia. Go talk to the people however as some have done and you will find much disagreement with the controlling government tyranny among the individuals trapped in the false collectivist model.

    The real issue is personal freedom vs. government coercion or freedom from government. Government is the problem not the solution and collectivism is the idealized fantasy that allows a minority elite to control the masses who are forced by the coercion of law, police and the military to stay in their lanes, so to speak and not deviate.

    • Februar 18, 2016 um 11:19 am

      Dear Terry, for user you are absolutely right that each person has it’s own character. But this here is just to compare a nations on a very common perspective. I think there is a tendency of culture each nation has. Eventhough it is getting more difficult of course to think about „one size fits all“ especially due to the fact that some countries experience a significant growth of imigrants with other cultural backgrounds.

  • November 14, 2014 um 12:51 am

    Individualism care about him of herself more than others, but collectivism cares others more than themselves. It is interesting that the different exists in the individualism such as America and German. Also, unlike collectivism, individualism doens’t make personal conntect with coworker.

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