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Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

Hofstede’s massive study continues to be a focal point for additional research. The four now-well-known dimensions that Hofstede examined were (1) power distance, (2) uncertainty avoidance, (3) individualism, and (4) masculinity. The more recent fifth dimension of time orientation is not as well known, but it was added to help describe the long- versus short-term orientations of cultures.19 The East Asian countries were found to have longer-term orientations while the U.S. and U.K. were found to have relatively short-term orientations. While such time orientations are important to our understanding of cultures, the original four dimensions have received the most attention and are therefore the primary focus here.

Power Distance

Power distance is “the extent to which less powerful members of in- stitutions and organizations accept that power is distributed unequally.”20 Countries in which people blindly obey the orders of their superiors have high power distance. In many societies, lower-level employees tend to follow orders as a matter of procedure. In societies with high power distance, however, strict obedience is found even at the upper levels; ex- amples include Mexico, South Korea, and India.

The effect of this dimension can be measured in a number of ways. For example, organizations in low-power-distance countries generally will be decentralized and have flatter organization structures. These organizations also will have a smaller proportion of supervisory personnel, and the lower strata of the workforce often will consist of highly qualified people. By contrast, organizations in high-power-distance countries will tend to be centralized and have tall organization structures. Organizations in high-power- distance countries will have a large proportion of supervisory personnel, and the people at the lower levels of the structure often will have low job qualifications. This latter structure encourages and promotes inequality between people at different levels.

Uncertainty Avoidance

Uncertainty avoidance is “the extent to which people feel threatened by ambiguous situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these.23 Countries populated with people who do not like uncertainty tend to have a high need for security and a strong belief in experts and their knowledge; examples include Germany, Japan, and Spain. Cultures with low uncertainty avoidance have people who are more willing to accept that risks are associated with the unknown, that life must go on in spite of this. Examples include Denmark and Great Britain.

The effect of this dimension can be measured in a number of ways. Countries with high-uncertainty-avoidance cultures have a great deal of structuring of organizational activities, more written rules, less risk taking by managers, lower labor turnover, and less ambitious employees.

Low-uncertainty-avoidance societies have organization settings with less structur- ing of activities, fewer written rules, more risk taking by managers, higher labor turnover, and more ambitious employees. The organization encourages personnel to use their own initiative and assume responsibility for their actions.


Individualism is the tendency of people to look after themselves and their immediate family only.24 Hofstede measured this cultural difference on a bipolar con- tinuum with individualism at one end and collectivism at the other. Collectivism is the tendency of people to belong to groups or collectives and to look after each other in ex- change for loyalty.25 Like the effects of the other cultural dimensions, the effects of individualism and collectivism can be measured in a number of different ways.26 Hofstede found that wealthy countries have higher individualism scores and poorer countries higher collectiv- ism scores (see Table 4–3 for the 74 countries used in Figure 4–4 and subsequent figures). Note that in Figure 4–4, the United States, Canada, Australia, Denmark, and Sweden, among others, have high individualism and high GNP. Conversely, Indonesia, Pakistan, and a number of South American countries have low individualism (high collectivism) and low GNP. Countries with high individualism also tend to have greater support for the Protestant work ethic, greater individual initiative, and promotions based on market value. Countries with low individualism tend to have less support for the Protestant work ethic, less individual initiative, and promotions based on seniority.


Masculinity is defined by Hofstede as “a situation in which the dominant values in society are success, money, and things.”27 Hofstede measured this dimension on a continuum ranging from masculinity to femininity. Contrary to some stereotypes and connotations, femininity is the term used by Hofstede to describe “a situation in which the dominant values in society are caring for others and the quality of life.”28

Countries with a high masculinity index, such as the Germanic countries, place great importance on earnings, recognition, advancement, and challenge. Individuals are encouraged to be independent decision makers, and achievement is defined in terms of recognition and wealth. The workplace is often characterized by high job stress, and many managers believe that their employees dislike work and must be kept under some degree of control. The school system is geared toward encouraging high performance.

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