Academic journal article European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities

Individual and Country Level Determinants of (Post)Materialist Values in Eastern Europe

Academic journal article European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities

Individual and Country Level Determinants of (Post)Materialist Values in Eastern Europe

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Since Inglehart's seminal work (Inglehart, 1971), postmaterialist values, understood as assigning priorities to self-expression and quality of life as opposed to physical and economic security, have become a very important heuristic tool in social sciences. In his early work, postmaterialist values were viewed as a main manifestation of value change in advanced societies, main component of democratic political culture and a sort of a cultural precondition of democracy (Inglehart, 1971; 1990; 1997).1

In the original model, postmaterialist value change is explained by two hypotheses (Inglehart, 1990). Scarcity hypothesis claims that individual values reflect socio-economic environment - the largest subjective importance is assigned to the most important ungratified needs, in keeping with the principles described in Maslow's theory of human motivation (Maslow, 1954). Material (lower) needs when ungratified take primacy over all other needs, but once satisfied they are taken for granted and some other (postmaterialist) needs gain more importance. The prosperity (e.g. economic growth in Inglehart's terms) is thus conducive for spreading of postmaterialist values.

The socio-economic environment has the most prominent role, but its relationship with value priorities is not one of immediate adjustment. The early (formative) years of individual development are what matters. Socialization hypothesis states that one's value preferences reflect the (socio-economic) conditions from one's formative years, until early adolescence. People tend to hold the early instilled preferences and "the statistical likelihood of basic personality change declines sharply after one reaches adulthood" (Inglehart, 1990, p. 69). In short, individual and societal values do not change overnight, but gradually and by generational replacement. This would also imply that the faster the economic growth, the greater the cohort differences.

Two hypotheses combined imply that the shift towards postmaterialist values is not to be expected within every society. If this were the case, the model would be strongly confounded by and inseparable from the life-cycle effects, the inherent tendencies of individuals to accept materialist goals more as they grow older. Starting from the 1970s onwards, Inglehart and his associates have confirmed the tendency of younger age cohorts to be more inclined towards postmaterialism over and over again, first on a limited number of developed Western democracies (Inglehart, 1971) and some other developed societies over the globe more recently (Abramson&Inglehart, 1992; Inglehart, 1997; 2007; Inglehart&Welzel, 2005). Postmaterialist value shift is (or, at least, was) restricted to the countries that achieved a long-term economic development.

Based on such sound empirical grounding, back in the last decade of the 20th century, Inglehart predicted that the number of postmaterialists will exceed the number of materialists in the ratio 5:3 until 2010 (Abramson & Inglehart, 1992), despite the gradual effect of generational replacement, the fall in birth rate in the late 1980s, economic ebb and flows etc. Inglehart (Inglehart, 2007; Inglehart & Welzel, 2005) reported that there was a significant value shift in the period from 1970 to 2000 in the predicted direction in several developed West European countries; a similar trend has been found elsewhere (Clarck & Dutt, 1991). However, not only that this trend towards postmaterialism in some countries was very weak, absent, or reversed (a declining percentage of postmaterialists) (Boltken & Jagodzinski, 1985), but, generally, in the developed countries of Western Europe, changes take place in the direction of enlargement of the mixed type group (Arts & Halman, 2004).

Plenty of other studies did not confirm Inglehart's empirical and theoretical assumptions. Despite the model predictions, numerous studies failed to confirm significant relationships between the acceptance of postmaterialism and some of the model's crucial variables. …

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