Hofstede’s Dimensions of Culture

This page titled 1.3: Cultural Characteristics and the Roots of Culture is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Karen Krumrey-Fulks and Emily McWorthy.


Hofstede’s Dimensions of National Culture Theory

Geert Hofstede, sometimes called the father of modern cross-cultural science and thinking, is a social psychologist who focused on a comparison of nations using a statistical analysis of two unique databases. The first and largest database composed of answers that matched employee samples from forty different countries to the same survey questions focused on attitudes and beliefs. The second consisted of answers to some of the same questions by Hofstede’s executive students who came from fifteen countries and from a variety of companies and industries. He developed a framework for understanding the systematic differences between nations in these two databases. This framework focused on value dimensions. Values, in this case, are broad preferences for one state of affairs over others, and they are mostly unconscious.  However, it is important to note that these cultural values may guide individual behavior, but that does NOT mean that everyone in the culture will behave in accordance with these values. Individual differences will vary widely within a culture. 

Most of us understand that values are our own culture’s or society’s ideas about what is good, bad, acceptable, or unacceptable. Hofstede developed a framework for understanding how these values underlie organizational behavior. Through his database research, he identified six key value dimensions (power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, time, and Indulgence) that analyze and interpret the behaviors, values, and attitudes of a national culture (Hofstede, 1980).

Power Distance

Power distance refers to how openly a society or culture accepts or does not accept differences between people, as in hierarchies in the workplace, in politics, and so on. For example, high power distance cultures openly accept that a boss is “higher” and as such deserves a more formal respect and authority. Examples of these cultures include Japan, Mexico, and the Philippines. In Japan or Mexico, the senior person is almost a father figure and is automatically given respect and usually loyalty without questions.

In Southern Europe, Latin America, and much of Asia, power is an integral part of the social equation. People tend to accept relationships of servitude. An individual’s status, age, and seniority command respect—they’re what make it all right for the lower-ranked person to take orders. Subordinates expect to be told what to do and won’t take initiative or speak their minds unless a manager explicitly asks for their opinion.

At the other end of the spectrum are low power distance cultures, in which superiors and subordinates are more likely to see each other as equal in power. Countries found at this end of the spectrum include Austria and Denmark. To be sure, not all cultures view power in the same ways. In Sweden, Norway, and Israel, for example, respect for equality is a warranty of freedom. Subordinates and managers alike often have carte blanche to speak their minds.

Interestingly enough, research indicates that the United States tilts toward low power distance but is more in the middle of the scale than Germany and the United Kingdom. The United States has a culture of promoting participation at the office while maintaining control in the hands of the manager. People in this type of culture tend to be relatively laid-back about status and social standing—but there’s a firm understanding of who has the power. What’s surprising for many people is that countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia actually rank lower on the power distance spectrum than the United States.

In a high power distance culture, you would probably be much less likely to challenge a decision, to provide an alternative, or to give input. If you are working with someone from a high power distance culture, you may need to take extra care to elicit feedback and involve them in the discussion because their cultural framework may preclude their participation. They may have learned that less powerful people must accept decisions without comment, even if they have a concern or know there is a significant problem.

Figure 1.3.1 1.3.1: A map which shows the relative power distance of nations around the world 

Individualism vs. collectivism

Individualism vs. collectivism anchor opposite ends of a continuum that describes how people define themselves and their relationships with others. Individualism is just what it sounds like. It refers to people’s tendency to take care of themselves and their immediate circle of family and friends, perhaps at the expense of the overall society. In individualistic cultures, what counts most is self-realization. Initiating alone, sweating alone, achieving alone— not necessarily collective efforts—are what win applause. In individualistic cultures, competition is the fuel of success.

The United States and Northern European societies are often labeled as individualistic. In the United States, individualism is valued and promoted—from its political structure (individual rights and democracy) to entrepreneurial zeal (capitalism). Other examples of high-individualism cultures include Australia and the United Kingdom.

Communication tends to be more direct in individualistic societies but more indirect in collectivistic societies. The U.S. ranks very high in individualism, and South Korea ranks quite low. Japan falls close to the middle.

Motivation Towards Achievement and Success

Hofstede originally named this the “gender” value.  In October 2023, a researched group called Hofstede Insights renamed this value to High/Low Motivation towards achievement and success, clearing up some confusion.  This dimension is not necessarily about gender roles – it’s about how a society views traits that are considered “masculine” (high motivation towards achievement and success) or feminine (caring, compassion, nurturing. As a result of defining the traits this way, a set of cultural expectations and norms for gender behavior and gender roles across life.

High Motivation towards achievement and success value traditionally perceived “masculine” values are assertiveness, materialism, competition, hard work and less concern for others. Often these cultures will “live to work,” putting in long hours. In these cultures, gender roles are usually crisply defined as a result of this.

In contrast, lower achievement and success cultures are thought to emphasize “feminine” values: concern for all, an emphasis on the quality of life, an emphasis on relationships, compassion, and nurturing.  In these cultures, as a result, gender roles tend to be less defined with the focus on quality of life, service, and independence. The Scandinavian cultures rank as feminine cultures, as do cultures in Switzerland and New Zealand. The United States is actually more moderate, and its score is ranked in the middle between masculine and feminine classifications. For all these factors, it’s important to remember that cultures don’t necessarily fall neatly into one camp or the other. The range of difference is one aspect of intercultural communication that requires significant attention when a communicator enters a new environment.

Uncertainty Avoidance

Some cultures, such as the U.S. and Britain, are highly tolerant of uncertainty, while others go to great lengths to reduce the element of surprise. Cultures in the Arab world, for example, are high in uncertainty avoidance; they tend to be resistant to change and reluctant to take risks. Whereas a U.S. business negotiator might enthusiastically agree to try a new procedure, the Egyptian counterpart would likely refuse to get involved until all the details are worked out.

Higher Uncertainty Avoidance cultures also tend to engage in more planning – this makes it easier to predict what “might” happen next, or have more rules for controlling for uncertainties.  Lower Uncertainty Avoidance culture may be more comfortable going with the flow.

In educational settings, people from countries high in uncertainty avoidance expect their teachers to be experts with all of the answers. People from countries low in uncertainty avoidance don’t mind it when a teacher says, “I don’t know.”

Long-term vs. short-term orientation

The fifth dimension is long-term orientation, which refers to whether a culture has a long-term or short-term orientation. This dimension was added by Hofstede after the original four you just read about. It resulted in the effort to understand the difference in thinking between the East and the West. Certain values are associated with each orientation. The long-term orientation values persistence, perseverance, and thriftiness.  These are evident in traditional Eastern cultures. Long-term orientation is often marked by persistence, thrift and frugality, and an order to relationships based on age and status. A sense of shame, both personal and for the family and community, is also observed across generations. What an individual does reflects on the family, and is carried by immediate and extended family members.

The short-term orientation values tradition only to the extent of fulfilling social obligations or providing gifts or favors. While there may be a respect for tradition, there is also an emphasis on personal representation and honor, a reflection of identity and integrity. Personal stability and consistency are also valued in a short-term oriented culture, contributing to an overall sense of predictability and familiarity. These cultures are more likely to be focused on the immediate or short-term impact of an issue. Not surprisingly, the United Kingdom and the United States rank lower on the long-term orientation.


The last dimension, added later by Hofstede is Indulgence/Restraint.  This value is related to freedom of expression of desires and impulses within a culture.  Cultures high in indulgence tend to have large celebrations, high expression, more spending, and value leisure.  Cultures more on the “restraint” side tend to follow stricter social norms in terms of expression, and tend to be less materialistic.


Among the various attempts by social scientists to study human values from a cultural perspective, Hofstede’s is certainly popular. In fact, it would be a rare culture text that did not pay special attention to Hofstede’s theory. Value dimensions are all evolving as many people gain experience outside their home cultures and countries, therefore, in practice, these five dimensions do not occur as single values but are really woven together and interdependent, creating very complex cultural interactions. Even though these five values are constantly shifting and not static, they help us begin to understand how and why people from different cultures may think and act as they do.

However, Hofstede’s cultural dimensions are not without critics. It has been faulted for promoting a largely static view of culture (Hamden-Turner & Trompenaars, 1997) and as Orr & Hauser (2008) have suggested, the world has changed in dramatic ways since Hofstede’s research began.

The video below will describe these dimensions as well:

  1. Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G. J., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and organizations software of the mind: Intercultural cooperation and its importance for survival (3rd ed.). McGraw Hill. https://tinyurl.com/culture-orgs
  2. Hofstede Insights (2022). National culturehttps://hi.hofstede-insights.com/national-culture
  3. Guffey, M.E., Lowey, D., Rhodes, K., & Rogin, P. (2013). Intercultural communication. In Business communication: Process & product (4th brief Canadian ed., pp. 60-77). Nelson. 
  4. Gallois, C., & Callen, V. (1997). Communication and culture (p. 24). Wiley. 
  5. TEDx Talks. (2012, December 30). Everything you always wanted to know about culture | Saba Safdar | TEDxGuelphU [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaOJ71czAGQ
  6. Gallois, C., & Callen, V. (1997). Communication and culture (p. 29). Wiley. 
  7. Zikmund, W. G. et al. (2008). Effective marketing (1st Canadian ed.). Nelson. 
  8. Hofstede Insights. (2021). National culturehttps://hi.hofstede-insights.com/national-culture
  9. Piotrus. (2019). Hofstede 4 countries 6 dimensions. Wikimedia Commons. https://tinyurl.com/hofstede-4-6CC BY-SA 4.0
  10. Neuliup, J. W. (2011). The cultural context. In Intercultural communication: A contextual approach (5th ed, pp. 45-91). Sagepub. https://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/42958_2_The_Cultural_Context.pdf


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