According to a study, the values ​​of Western and other societies are increasingly different. Over the past 40 years, countries have become more similar in many aspects as a result of globalization, mass media and the spread of technologies – but cultural values ​​are not necessarily one of them, US researchers report in the specialist magazine “Nature Communications” on the results of repeated surveys among around 400,000 people in 76 countries.

Accordingly, the value orientations, particularly for tolerance and openness, have diverged between countries on different continents over the past four decades. Within continents they became more similar. The data also shows that the value orientations of high-income Western countries are particularly different from those of other countries.

Values ​​gap in Africa and Asia

According to the researchers, one theory states that with increasing modernization and economic prosperity worldwide, liberal, individualistic values ​​that emphasize personal rights and freedoms are increasingly being adopted. In Asian and African countries in particular, this connection is much less pronounced than in the West, as the study now shows. The increasing gap in values ​​could have consequences for political polarization and international conflicts, warns the research duo Joshua Conrad Jackson and Danila Medvedev.

“If cultural differences in attitudes and values ​​increase, religious intolerance grows and at the same time the willingness to cooperate on economic, social and ecological issues decreases, then conflicts within or between societies can increase sharply, even leading to military conflicts,” explained Roland Verwiebe from the University of Potsdam, who was not involved in the study.

Big differences in terms of obedience and religiosity

The author duo from Chicago evaluated data from the World Values ​​Survey between 1981 and 2022. Cultural differences were recorded in 40 values, for example associated with openness, obedience and faith. Accordingly, there are major differences when it comes to assessing how important it is to teach children religious beliefs and to educate them to obey.

Western and other countries have also diverged significantly in other aspects: while people in Australia and Pakistan, for example, viewed divorce as unacceptable decades ago, their views have developed in opposite directions, as Jackson and Medvedev explain. There has been a similar development in the value of children’s obedience.

Prosperity does not automatically bring equality

The development of prosperity does not automatically mean an alignment of values, according to the researchers. For example, it increased similarly in Hong Kong and Canada between 2000 and 2020, but acceptance of homosexuality increased faster in Canada. In Canada, there is now less emphasis on children’s willingness to perform, but in Hong Kong there is much more emphasis.

Verwiebe, professor of social structure analysis and social inequality, said that he sees limitations in the comparability of the measurement conditions in the individual countries. “At the same time, due to the use of a large number of data points, the results can be assumed to be very robust, and I consider the reported trends of global divergence of values ​​to be very plausible.” New lines of division have emerged between Western-influenced, very wealthy European countries on the one hand and Asian and African states on the other.

Liberal democracies increasingly on the defensive

There is also another important development: “European-style liberal democracies are increasingly on the defensive around the world; in some cases their acceptance is also declining significantly in strongly democratic societies, for example in the Netherlands, France, the USA and Germany.” Democracy is based on negotiating differences of interests and accepting differences of opinion. “If democracy is in retreat, intolerance increases.”

Constanze Beierlein from Hamm-Lippstadt University also explained that it can be seen worldwide that democracies are coming under pressure as an expression of emancipatory values ​​and that authoritarian attitudes and parties are also gaining popularity in Europe, such as the AfD in Germany. “We have already seen that European countries, such as Hungary, then reorient themselves politically and also expand contact with other authoritarian regimes.”

If values ​​such as national security and dominance over other countries are the focus of political action, this also has a direct impact on Germany, says Beierlein, head of the Department of Cultural Comparative Social Psychology and Diagnostics and himself not involved in the current study. For example, when it comes to goals such as peacekeeping, environmental protection and human rights, which can only be achieved together.