Self-expression values

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Self-expression values are part of a core value dimension in the modernization process.[1] Self-expression is a cluster of values that include social tolerance, life satisfaction, public expression and an aspiration to liberty. Ronald Inglehart, the University of Michigan professor who developed the theory of post-materialism, has worked extensively with this concept. On the Inglehart–Welzel Cultural Map self-expression values are contrasted with survival values, illustrating the changes in values across countries and generations.[2] The idea that the world is moving towards self-expression values was discussed at length in an article in the Economist.[3] Self-expression is to say something that you truly believe is important in a form of communication,[weasel words] such as art, speech and dance, or other medium.[citation needed] It is to reveal yourself to others in a way that is special to yourself.[clarification needed]

Emergence of self-expression values[edit]

The emergence of the post-industrial society has brought about a wave of cultural change.[4] In the United States, Canada, Western Europe, and a growing share of East Asia, a majority of the people are no longer employed in factories, but work in the service sector instead.[5] There has been a shift from a mechanical environment to one where ever more people spend their days dealing with other people, symbols, and information, which means that workers in the knowledge sector must exercise their own judgment and choice.

This shift has had major consequences:

  • Unprecedentedly high levels of prosperity and welfare states that make food, clothing, shelter, housing, education and health service available to almost everyone. Even in the United States, where the welfare state is relatively limited, a significant portion of the GDP is redistributed through the state. This makes physical survival, a minimum living standard, and an average life expectancy of nearly 80 years to be taken for granted by people living in the respective societies, which encourages people to focus on goals beyond immediate survival.
  • Modern service jobs increasingly require use of cognitive skills.[6] Engineers, teachers, lawyers, accountants, counselors, programmers and analysts all belong to the creative class. These workers have high autonomy in their work, even if they sometimes continue to work in hierarchical organizations. The need for cognitive skills is dramatically larger than in societies in the early stages of industrialization. To meet these needs, the labor forces of post-industrial societies increasingly pursue higher education, emphasizing creativity, imagination and intellectual independence.
  • Post-industrial societies are socially liberating compared to their predecessors. The centrally controlled, highly regimented work forces of the industrial world are gone, as are the strong conformity pressures that accompanied them. The traditional system—in which children's survival depended on their parents' providing for them, in return for which the children would take care of the parents in old age—has been undermined by the welfare state. As a result, close-knit family structures, once a necessity for survival, become increasingly a matter of choice, replacing "communities of necessity" with "elective affinities."[7]

The destandardization of economic activities and social life diminishes social constraints in unprecedented ways. The shift in post-industrial societies is thus one of emancipation from authority.[8]

Self-expression values and democracy[edit]

Industrialization can lead to fascism, communism, theocracy or democracy. But post-industrial society brings socio-cultural changes that make truly effective democracy increasingly probable.

Knowledge societies cannot function effectively without highly educated workers, who become articulate and accustomed to thinking for themselves. Furthermore, rising levels of economic security bring growing emphasis on self-expression values that give high priority to free choice. Mass publics become increasingly likely to want democracy, and increasingly effective in getting it. Repressing mass demands for liberalization becomes increasingly costly and detrimental to economic effectiveness. These changes link economic development with democracy.[9]

Empirical measurements of self-expression values[edit]

The most thorough assessment of self-expression values is carried out in the World Values Survey. Five "waves" have been conducted so far, each adding additional countries to the survey.

Subsequent data analysis by Inglehart revealed that a large percentage in the variability in the data could be explained by using a set of measures that tapped just two dimensions: a traditional to secular-rational axis, and a survival to self-expression axis. The factor scores were originally based on 22 variables,[1] but this was reduced to only 10 (5 for each dimension) for the purposes of data availability.

The self-expression axis has the following factor loadings.[8]

Survey question Factor loading
Respondent gives priority to self-expression and quality of life over economic and physical security 0.87
Respondent describes self as very happy 0.81
Homosexuality is sometimes justifiable 0.77
Respondent has signed or would sign a petition 0.74
Respondent does not think one has to be very careful about trusting people 0.46

Despite comprising only five variables, the correlates for this dimension across the WV survey are very strong. Below is a partial list.[8] Positive answers indicate survival values, the opposite of self-expression values.

Survival values emphasize the following (opposite of self-expression values)[10] Correlation with survival/
self-expression values
Men make better political leaders than women. 0.86
Respondent is dissatisfied with financial situation of his or her household. 0.83
A woman has to have children in order to be fulfilled. 0.83
Respondent rejects foreigners, homosexuals and people with AIDS as neighbors. 0.81
Respondent favors more emphasis on the development of technology. 0.78
Respondent has not recycled things to protect the environment. 0.78
Respondent has not attended a meeting or signed a petition to protect the environment 0.75
When seeking a job, a good income and a safe job are more important than a feeling of accomplishment and working with the people you like. 0.74
Respondent is relatively favorable to state ownership of business and industry. 0.74
A child needs a home with both a mother and a father to grow up happily. 0.73
Respondent does not describe own health as very good. 0.73
One must always love and respect one's parents regardless of their behavior. 0.71
When jobs are scarce, men have more right to a job than women. 0.69
Respondent does not have much free choice or control over his or her life. 0.67
Imagination is not one of the most important things to teach a child. 0.62

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Inglehart, Ronald (1997). Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic, and Political Change in 43 Societies. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
  2. ^ "World Values Survey".
  3. ^ The Economist, American Values: Living with a superpower January 4, 2003
  4. ^ Inglehart, Ronald (1971). "The silent revolution in Europe: Intergenerational change in postindustrial societies" (PDF). American Political Science Review. 65 (4): 991–1017. doi:10.2307/1953494. JSTOR 1953494. S2CID 145368579.
  5. ^ "Field Listing: Labor force – by occupation". CIA World Factbook. Archived from the original on June 13, 2007. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
  6. ^ Florida, Richard (2002). The Rise of the Creative Class. New York: Basic Books.
  7. ^ Beck, Ulrich (2002). "Losing the Traditional: Individualization and Precarious Freedoms". Individualization. London: SAGE Publications. pp. 1–21.
  8. ^ a b c Inglehart, Ronald & Welzel, Christian (2005), Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence, New York: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521846950.
  9. ^ Inglehart, Ronald; Welzel, Christian (2010), "Changing Mass Priorities: The Link between Modernization and Democracy", Perspectives on Politics, 8 (2): 551–567, doi:10.1017/S1537592710001258, S2CID 49528865.
  10. ^ 1990 and 1996 Values surveys