Hofstede Series: Individualism

While doing research for a previous “Danish” centered blog post, my colleague suggested I check out “The Hofstede Centre,” which administers cultural surveys of varying nations. The discovery got my curiosity whirling as it provided information about Denmark that I had not really anticipated. As I have lived in both Denmark and the USA for 10 years respectively, I thought it would be fun to do a comparison of Denmark and the USA to see how they would match up, and what personal cultural insights I could draw from their results.

Pine Tribe- "The Hoftstede Centre's cultural comparison chart of Denmark and the USA"

The Hofstede Centre’s cultural comparison chart of Denmark and the USA


As it turns out, quite a lot of conclusions can be drawn between the cultures, and I’ve decided to write a small series of articles with a personal analysis of the data from Hofstede.

Today I will focus on the Individualism category.

The Individualism category measures how a culture ranks as an either “We” or “I” society. A high score tells us that a culture focuses mainly on themselves and their immediate family, compared to a low score that implies working toward the collective.

I will admit I was not very surprised by the USA getting a score of 100 in individualism. As we have explained with previous articles here at Pine Tribe (such as Peter’s discussion of “keeping up with the Joneses” in comparison to Scandinavia’s Janteloven link), in America there is a lot of focus on gaining personal success and wealth. Although many other cultures may tease America at times regarding materialism, I always say that if it wasn’t for this mentality, America would not have become the incredible superpower that it is. The striving for the American Dream, the hunt for a better life is the core reason for the massive immigration America has achieved throughout its history. Therefore, America owes its position of power and reputation to its individualism, becoming a huge melting pot not only for culture, but also for success stories and inspirational personalities.

American Dream differs from the Denmark's view

A standard image of the USA’s “American Dream” in the 1950’s. An image that drove a culture toward wanting success. The Danish Dream looks rather different

What did surprise me however, was how high Denmark scored in the individualism category. As a Dane, I know how important independence is for us as individuals, but on a whole I will admit that I always picture our society as a “We” culture. A misjudgment on my part, as I jumped to the conclusion that in a Socialist context, a government whose rationale supports high taxes in order to provide oneself and their neighbors with benefits such as health, education, retirement, etc., would immediately construct a collective society.

But then I started thinking more about it, and Denmark scoring high in this facet actually made a lot of sense. This is my reasoning why:

When you have a government that already mandates the collective, it gives the citizens a lot more freedom to focus on themselves. In other words, if everyone by default already takes care of each other, then nobody has to go out of their way to do so. This allows for individuals to focus on themselves, and their immediate family or surroundings. In addition to this, because everyone is taken care of, us Danes can focus on the things we personally want to do, rather than focus on the things we might need to have done (such as save for college or retirement).

I think this is a major factor in why us Danes have been continuously ranked as the happiest people in the world. Particularly in the regards to how we are free to do what we really want professionally, for the joys of the jobs rather than for the financial benefit. And when we are happy with our work, we do it well. This is what Alexander Kjerulf, happiness at work expert and author of Happy Hour is 9 to 5 is a master at helping companies across the world achieve.

Denmark's Work Life Balance

In Denmark, work life balance is ingrained in the Danish work ethic. It’s a concept that many successful American companies are trying to accommodate

Here in Denmark, I really feel the importance of work life balance and how it is ingrained in the culture. Biased as I am, I’ve always admired Denmark’s unique approach in regards to attitude towards work, and always thought that it wouldn’t be possible to achieve in another culture that didn’t have the government support like we do. However, from a different perspective, it may actually be easier to achieve this in a capitalist society, as corporations are free to set up their own personal work culture. If a company can mimic the ideals of a collective society (such as the benefits in Denmark), then individual employees will be able to focus more on their own roles relating to their work and personal lives. This would result in happier employees and higher productivity, as studies have shown a more productive workforce.

When an individual doesn’t have to worry about collective issues, they are able to achieve so much more in their own lives, and here I am not talking about money, but more so about experiences and life quality. Denmark and the US are both individualistic countries – but seemingly for quite different reasons.

Images from: here, here, and here

Philip Trampe
6 Feb 2014

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