Findings and Insights

The WVS has over the years demonstrated that people’s beliefs play a key role in economic development, the emergence and flourishing of democratic institutions, the rise of gender equality, and the extent to which societies have effective government. Some of the key findings of the work are described below.

Inglehart–Welzel Cultural Map

The map presents empirical evidence of massive cultural change and the persistence of distinctive cultural traditions. Main thesis holds that socioeconomic development is linked with a broad syndrome of distinctive value orientations. Analysis of WVS data made by political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel asserts that there are two major dimensions of cross cultural variation in the world:

1) Traditional values versus Secular-rational values and

2) Survival values versus Self-expression values.

  • Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority and traditional family values. People who embrace these values also reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook.
  • Secular-rational values have the opposite preferences to the traditional values. These societies place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable. (Suicide is not necessarily more common.)
  • Survival values place emphasis on economic and physical security. It is linked with a relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance.
  • Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life.

The two dimensions have been created by running factor analysis over a set of ten indicators. The ten indicators used (five to tap each dimension) were chosen for technical reasons: in order to be able to compare findings across time, we used indicators that had been included in all four waves of the Values Surveys. These ten indicators reflect only a handful of the many beliefs and values that these two dimensions tap, and they are not necessarily the most sensitive indicators of these dimensions. They do a good job of tapping two extremely important dimensions of cross-cultural variation, but we should bear in mind that these specific items are only indicators of much broader underlying dimensions of cross-cultural variation [Source: Chapter 2 from Inglehart, R & C. Welzel. 2005. Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence. New York: Cambridge University Press].  

The global cultural map (below) shows how scores of societies are located on these two dimensions. Moving upward on this map reflects the shift from Traditional values to Secular-rational and moving rightward reflects the shift from Survival values to Self-expression values. A somewhat simplified analysis is that following an increase in standards of living, and a transit from development country via industrialization to post-industrial knowledge society, a country tends to move diagonally in the direction from lower-left corner (poor) to upper-right corner (rich), indicating a transit in both dimensions. However, the attitudes among the population are also highly correlated with the philosophical, political and religious ideas that have been dominating in the country. Secular-rational values and materialism were formulated by philosophers and the left-wing politics side in the French revolution, and can consequenlty be observed especially in countries with a long history of social democratic or socialistic policy, and in countries where a large portion of the population have studied philisophy and science at universities. Survival values are characteristic for eastern-world countries and self-expression values for western-world countries. In a liberal post-industrial economy, an increasing share of the population has grown up taking survival and freedom of thought for granted, resulting in that self-expression is highly valued.


  • Societies that have high scores in Traditional and Survival values: Zimbabwe, Morocco, Jordan, Bangladesh.
  • Societies with high scores in Traditional and Self-expression values: the U.S., most of Latin America, Ireland.
  • Societies with high scores in Secular-rational and Survival values: Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Estonia.
  • Societies with high scores in Secular-rational and Self-expression values: Sweden, Norway, Japan, Benelux, Germany, France, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, and some English speaking countries.

Cultural map - WVS wave 7 (2017-2022) (click figure to enlarge)