Measuring the Dynamics of Cultural Values and their Role in Human Development

  • Damian Ruck

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Abstract

Using survey data and a multi-level time-lagged linear regression, we show that cultural values are primal in the human development sequence. The spread of advantageous cultural values - like respect for individual rights - predicts future economic development and democracy.

The World and European Values Surveys (WEVS) are administered in 109 countries representing over 90% of the world's population. They are designed to quantify cultural values and facilitate comparative analysis on a global scale. We found nine underlying cultural factors in the WEVS that can be compressed into three orthogonal cultural value components: Secular-Rationality, Openness and Institutional Support. Furthermore, the 109 countries fall into one of four clusters representing different cultural-histories: African-Islamic, Catholic, Western and Communist-Confucian.

We find two independent modes of cultural value dynamics that have very different characters: generational and opinion change. Generational change is persistent and steady and shows strong links to human development. Opinion change, conversely, is rapid and transient and shows weak links to human development. Opinion change dominates short run cultural value variation, but generational change dominates in the long run.

Generational changes in cultural values precede those in human development. This makes it unlikely that human development causes cultural values to change. Even though analysis using the standard WEVS cross-sectional samples show that cultural values weakly predict human development, cross-sectional dynamics are dominated by transient opinion change. Human development is unaffected in the long run.

We show that cultural-history is not needed to explain human development inequalities once past cultural values have been controlled for. However, cultural-history still influences the spread of cultural values themselves. Finally, the surprising recent decline in Support for Institutions is predicted by past increases in Secular-Rationality; meaning it could be a side-effect of human development.
Date of Award7 May 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorAlex Bentley (Supervisor) & Daniel John Lawson (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • Cultural values
  • Socioeconomic development
  • Inter-generational change
  • Secularization

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