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HOFSTEDE’S CULTURAL DIMENSIONS

Abstract

This study examines the reliability and validity of Hofstede’s cultural framework, when applied
at an individual level. The results demonstrate that the instrument lacks sufficient face validity
for use at a micro-level of analysis.

Background

Over the past two decades the majority of studies pertaining to cultural values have been
influenced by the seminal work of Geert Hofstede. Since its publication in 1980, Hofstede’s
book — Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values — has been
translated in numerous languages, and was fully revised in 2001. De Cieri and Dowling (1995)
noted that “The seminal work by Hofstede has inspired much of the cross-cultural research
activity since 1980 and has been the dominant research paradigm in cross-cultural studies of
national attitudes for some time.” “There are almost no publications, either from the disciplines
of sociology, anthropology, history, law, economics or business administration, that do not refer
to Hofstede’s work … when explaining correspondences and distinctions between cultures”
(IRIC, 2001). Redding (1994) stated that “Hofstede has inspired a great improvement in the
discipline by specifying a theoretical model which serves to coordinate research efforts.”

Hofstede’s cultural framework was originally comprised of four dimensions: Individualism/


Collectivism, Uncertainty Avoidance, Masculinity/Femininity, and Power Distance.
Individualists value independence, and tend to believe that personal goals and interests are more
important than group interests (Hofstede 1980; Triandis 1995; Schwartz 1992). In contrast,
collectivists tend to view themselves as members of an extended family or organization, and
place group interests ahead of individual needs. Societies with higher levels of uncertainty
avoidance feel a greater need for consensus and written rules, and are intolerant of deviations
from the norm. In contrast, societies characterized by low uncertainty avoidance rely less on
written rules and are more risk tolerant. In a masculine society individuals are more aggressive,
ambitious, and competitive; whereas individuals in feminine societies are more modest, humble,
and nurturing. Individuals in societies characterized by higher levels of power distance tend to
follow formal codes of conduct, and are reluctant to disagree with superiors. Individuals in
societies that are lower in power distance, on the other hand, do not feel as constrained by
perceived or actual differences in status, power, or position.

Applications of Hofstede’s Framework

Hofstede’s cultural framework has been applied in a wide variety of contexts, across most (if not
all) of the behavioral science disciplines. For example, in the fields of management and
marketing, Hofstede’s framework has been used to examine topics such as cross-cultural
differences in attitudes and behaviors (Alden, Hoyer, and Lee 1993), organizational
identification and employee turnover intentions (Abrams, Ando, and Hinkle 1998), and to
compare stereotypes across different cultures (Soutar, Grainger, and Hedges 1999). It has been
applied in studies of advertising (McCarty and Hattwick 1992; Gregory and Munch 1997;
Zandpour et al. 1994), global brand strategies (Roth 1995), and in ethical decision making
(Vitell, Nwachukwu, and Barnes 1993; Blodgett et al. 2001).

Validity Concerns
Given the pervasive influence of Hofstede’s work across the academic community, and the
plethora of findings, implications, and recommendations arising from these studies, it would be
reasonable to assume that the validity of the cultural framework has been fully established.
However, despite the many studies that have employed Hofstede’s framework, it has not been
subjected to rigorous tests of reliability and validity (as per Churchill 1979 and Schwab 1980).
This oversight is somewhat surprising, given that one of the foundations of the scientific method
is that tests and measures be rigorously scrutinized to ascertain their reliability and validity (see
Cook and Campbell 1979). Perhaps it is because Hofstede’s cultural framework is so appealing
from a conceptual standpoint that its psychometric properties have received little scrutiny.
Several studies, though, raise legitimate concerns about the empirical validity of Hofstede’s
framework. Soondergaard (1994), for example, conducted an extensive analysis of those studies
that have attempted to validate Hofstede’s research. Interestingly, almost two-thirds of these
studies found little or no support for Hofstede’s cultural framework. Studies that have focused
on the individual dimensions of culture also cast doubt on the framework; some have found
significant overlap among the various dimensions of culture (e.g., Bakir et al. 2000), and others
have found the reliability of some of the dimensions to be low (Kagitcibasi 1994). Together,
these findings highlight the need for investigations of the validity of the cultural framework.

Purpose of this Study

The objective of this study was to examine Hofstede’s framework in order to assess the validity
of the cultural dimensions when applied at the individual level. Acknowledging that previous
critiques of Hofstede’s cultural framework have sparked much passion and controversy (e.g.,
Trompenaars 1993; Hofstede 1996, 1997; Hamden-Turner & Trompenaars 1997), the goal of this
assessment was to provide information in order to build upon and improve the cultural
framework, and thus advance future scientific inquiries.

Before embarking on this investigation it should be noted that Hofstede developed the cultural
framework for macro, national level analyses. Hofstede’s objective was to describe and compare
stable, systematic differences in values and attitudes across nations and their peoples in general.
He readily acknowledged the distinction between within-culture and between-culture analyses,
and noted that his instrument was not designed to measure and compare cultural differences at a
micro, individual level. With this caveat in mind, one should not expect that Hofstede’s
instrument would be as well suited for use at an individual level — as is common in studies of
marketing and consumer behavior — as compared to an aggregate, national level. Over the
years, though, many researchers seem to have overlooked this distinction, and have modeled the
various dimensions of culture as determinates of individual perceptions and behaviors. It is not
clear, however, that Hofstede’s instrument meets commonly accepted standards for reliability
and validity (Churchill 1979; Cook and Campbell 1979; Schwab 1980), such that its use at the
individual level of analysis is warranted.

Methodology

In order to examine the face validity of Hofstede’s cultural framework an exploratory study was
conducted. Subjects were asked to review Hofstede’s 32-item cultural scale and to classify the
items accordingly; indicating which dimension each particular item was intended to measure.
The items were obtained from Culture’s Consequences (Hofstede, 1980), and were presented in
their original form. The study was conducted across two different samples. The first sample
consisted of 123 undergraduate students from a university in the mid-south of the United States.
The second sample consisted of 26 faculty and doctoral students in the behavioral sciences from
the same institution.

Undergraduate Sample

The undergraduate class performed the classification task after listening to a lecture regarding
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. The professor explained the concept of culture, and discussed
each of its four dimensions. The students were then given a questionnaire containing the set of
items, along with written definitions of each of the four cultural dimensions. They were then
instructed to indicate which dimension each item was attempting to measure (i.e., by circling
“ID”, “MF”, “UA”, or “PD”).

As can be seen in Table 1, the students correctly matched the various items to their
corresponding dimensions only 32% of the time, on average. The individualism/collectivism
items were correctly classified, on average, 46% of the time; the uncertainty avoidance and
power distance items were correctly classified, on average, by 35% and 33% of the students;
while the masculinity/femininity items were correctly classified, on average, only 15% of the
time. Clearly, the low “success rate” of the undergraduate students indicates that the validity of
the items is suspect. The lack of “face validity” signals low reliability, and is problematic.

Faculty and Doctoral Student Sample

In order to determine whether the low success rate was an artifact of the undergraduate student
sample, a follow-up study was performed using a small group (26) of marketing and
management faculty and doctoral students. Presumably, faculty and doctoral students in the
behavioral sciences should be better equipped to discern the underlying dimension that each item
is supposedly tapping into.

Again, subjects were given the questionnaire, along with definitions of each dimension. On
average, the faculty/doctoral student sample correctly matched the items to their corresponding
dimensions only 44% of the time. The individualism/collectivism and power distance items
were correctly classified, on average, by 52% and 50% of the respondent; while the uncertainty
avoidance and masculinity/femininity items were correctly classified by only 45% and 28% of
the respondents. Although the faculty/doctoral student sample was better able to discern the
cultural dimension underlying each item the success rate was gives cause for concern. Given
that many authors cite Nunnally (1973), who opined that 70% reliability is a minimally
acceptable standard in the early stages of construct development, a 44% success rate indicates
low reliability. Overall, given the inability of both samples to match the items to their
corresponding dimensions, one must conclude that Hofstede’s scale lacks sufficient face validity
for use at an individual level.
TABLE 1
Face Validity

Percent Correctly Classified

Undergraduate Faculty/Doctoral
Scale
sample sample
Masculinity/Femininity 15% 28%
Individualism/Collectivism 46% 52%

Power Distance 33% 50%

Uncertainty Avoidance 35% 45%

Average 32.3% 44.3%

Discussion and Conclusion

There is no doubt that the concept of culture is legitimate. The authors commend Hofstede for
his pioneering work in this area, and for bringing the concept of culture to the forefront of the
various behavioral science disciplines. Culture is particularly relevant in the context of
marketing and consumer behavior. The issue, however, is how to best capture the construct and
its various dimensions. As this research has demonstrated, measures that might be appropriate
for macro-level comparisons are not necessarily valid for use at an individual unit of analysis.
This paper presents evidence that Hofstede’s cultural scale lacks sufficient face validity, and that
its reliability is questionable. It is hoped that this work will eventually lead to more reliable and
valid measures that capture the richness of the construct and can be deployed at an individual
level of analysis. It is well understood that in order to claim an association between any two
constructs — in terms of correlation or causation — one must first prove that the corresponding
measures are valid. Accordingly, in order to claim an association between any of the dimensions
of culture and a particular consumer behavior (such as complaining behavior) or attitudinal
variable (such as materialism), one must first demonstrate that the cultural measure is indeed
reliable and valid.