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Building A Worldwide Network Of Social Scientists
The World Values Survey (WVS) is a global network of social scientists who have surveyed the basic values and beliefs of the publics of over 100 societies, on all six inhabited continents.
The sixth wave will be completed in March 2014. The WVS network includes social scientists representing a wide variety of disciplines and representing a wide range of cultures, but sharing a common interest: they seek to understand ongoing social changes that are transforming peoples' worldviews and basic motivations.
The World Values Survey (WVS) has moved a long way toward establishing a worldwide network of social scientists who are working together to analyze the human component of global social and political changes. These surveys were designed to test the hypothesis that economic and technological changes are transforming the basic values and motivations of the publics of industrialized societies. Since each national group funded its own survey, its first wave was largely limited to relatively developed societies. Nevertheless, interest in this project spread so widely that surveys were carried out in more than twenty countries, located on all six inhabited continents. In return for providing the data from a survey in their own society, each group obtained immediate access to the data from all participating societies, enabling them to analyze social change in a broad comparative perspective. Participants from various countries worked together, analyzing and interpreting the findings and producing a number of multinational publications.
Findings from this first wave of surveys pointed to the conclusion that intergenerational changes were taking place in basic values relating to politics, economic life, religion, gender roles, family norms and sexual norms. The values of younger generations differed consistently from those prevailing among older generations, particularly in societies that had experienced rapid economic growth. To examine whether changes were actually taking place in these values and to analyze the underlying causes, a second wave of WVS surveys was carried out in 1990-1991. This wave was, from the start, designed to be a world-wide investigation of changing values. Because these changes seem to be linked with economic and technological development, it was important to include societies across the entire range of development, from low income societies to rich societies. Analysis of the results from these surveys enabled us to identify the most effective measures for further replication, and to design additional survey items to probe further into social and cultural change. Funding was obtained from various foundations to carry out surveys in China, India and Nigeria; we recruited colleagues from each of these countries to help design, analyze and interpret the surveys. Interest in this project continued to grow, and the number of participating societies rose from 22 to include 43 societies containing over 70 per cent of the world's population, in the 1990-1991 surveys.
The data from the 1990-1991 wave showed that pervasive changes in basic values had taken place. With few exceptions, the changes were moving in a predictable direction: many key values varied according to levels of economic development; societies that were growing richer were moving in the predicted direction, and the amount of movement was linked with economic growth rates. Moreover, a few societies had experienced severe economic decline, and nearly all of them moved in the reverse direction. Furthermore, we found strong evidence that these changes have important political and social consequences. One basic value dimension was closely linked with changes in religiosity, gender roles and human fertility rates. Another basic dimension was closely linked with the emergence and survival of democratic institutions.
Because the analysis of social change requires time series data, the WVS group decided to monitor these values regularly. A third wave of surveys was carried out in 1995-1998. This time, research was carried out in 55 societies, extending coverage to a number of emerging democracies in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia; and with increased attention being given to analyzing the cultural conditions that are conducive to democracy. A fourth wave of surveys was carried out in 1999-2001 in 65 societies. A key goal was to obtain better coverage of African and Islamic societies, which had been under-represented in the surveys carried out so far. Funding from the National Science Foundation, the Swedish Agency for International Development, the Volkswagen Foundation and other foundations made it possible to carry our fieldwork in these countries. A fifth wave of surveys is taking place in 2005-2006.
The World Values Survey has established the largest cross-national investigation of social change that has ever existed. It has developed a network of social scientists on six continents who are working together to analyze and understand changing human values and beliefs. Although these values and beliefs seem to have important social, economic and political implications, little research has been carried out on this topic until recently. The WVS network has produced more than 300 publications in more than 20 languages. The findings demonstrate that pervasive changes are taking place, and suggest that these changes have important consequences.
Until recently, because of political factors it would have been impossible for social scientists from many of these societies to take part in such a project. The 1999-2001 wave of this project brought social scientists from Islamic and African countries into this world-wide network of social scientists, enabling them to able to work together with colleagues from other societies with related interests, analyzing and interpreting the results. It is also disseminating state-of art techniques of social analysis into societies in which survey research and quantitative analysis of social change is just emerging.
This project provides the social science community with an unprecedentedly rich data base that enables social scientists to analyze processes of cultural change that seem to be reshaping basic orientations toward politics, work, economic growth, the environment, the role of the state in the economy, child bearing and child rearing, sexual norms, gender roles, political behavior and religion. These data constitute a collective resource that will be widely used by social scientists throughout the world. The WVS provides unprecedentedly broad coverage of dimensions of interest to social scientists, and it includes low-income societies and authoritarian societies that have been neglected in most previous studies. The World Values Survey data have become increasingly well-known, and have been utilized in hundreds of publications. These data have also been used extensively for instructional purposes.
Ultimately, the most important product of this project may be the insight that it produces concerning changes at the individual level that are transforming social, economic and political life. These changes are invisible until they are measured and analyzed through survey research, which has only recently begun to address them. They are still inadequately understood. This project will monitor these changes and help chart their trajectory in societies around the world, providing information that will help national and international decision makers to better understand and cope with these changes.
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