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Not Enough Altruists in the Post-Soviet Space

There is not a single country in the world where all people share the same system of values. Every society has members focused on serving others as well as those who value personal achievement above all and rely only on themselves. Independent altruists committed to helping others, yet expecting nothing in return, are relatively rare in all European countries, particularly in post-Soviet countries, where their proportion is among the smallest, according to Vladimir Magun and Maksim Rudnev of the HSE's Laboratory for Comparative Studies in Mass Consciousness.

Russia has few independent altruists—people whose values, according to Magun and Rudnev, are not limited to personal achievement but include service to others without any expectation of reward from government, any social group or individuals.

Magun and Rudnev have developed a typology of values for European countries by identifying five value classes based on the relative importance of values such as conservatism and concern for others, openness to change and self-enhancement.

According to their most recent findings, people in post-Soviet countries are more likely to value either serving others in exchange for protection, or personal achievements and independence, but not altruism combined with independence.

Magun and Rudnev analysed data from the fourth, fifth and sixth waves (2008, 2010 and 2012) of the European Social ​​Survey (ESS) in 32 countries.

Like-minded People Are Everywhere

According to Magun and Rudnev, rather than having a unique and homogenous 'national culture', each European country accommodates a combination of several transnational value systems, with people belonging to one of the five identified value classes.

Magun and Rudnev's study employs Schwartz' theory where basic values are understood as 'desirable trans-situational goals, varying in importance, that serve as guiding principles in the life of a person'.

The ten basic values ​​can be grouped into four categories, namely Openness to change, Self-transcendence, Conservation and Self-enhancement, which, in turn, form two bipolar value axes of Preservation vs. Openness to change and Self-enhancement vs. Self-transcendence.

Another option is to group them according to Personal focus vs. Social focus, where the latter includes the values of self-transcendence and preservation, while the former is associated with the values of openness to change and self-enhancement. According to Magun and Rudnev, people with a social focus are willing to serve others, but expect social protection in return, while those with a personal focus act primarily in their own interests, tend not to rely on society and government, and are open to innovation and risk.

Magun and Rudnev’s analysis found that more than 80% of Europeans belong to one of the four value classes with a strong personal focus, weak personal focus, weak social focus, and strong social focus.

Graph 1. Value classes in the space of the Schwartz higher-order value dimensions.

Source: Magun and Rudnev's paper

The growth values class was found to be the smallest in Europe, and its average proportion across European countries stood at 16%, 18% and 16% respectively, in 2008, 2010 and 2012. The proportions of people with a social and personal focus were roughly similar at 45% and 39% respectively, in 2012.

According to Magun and Rudnev, even countries with different distributions of value orientations will have a certain proportion of people sharing the same values. "This could facilitate person to person communication across borders, as like-minded people can be found in any country," the authors say.

The Altruism of Independent People

According to Magun and Rudnev, the majority (more than 80%) of Europeans tend towards either the social or personal focus, because their value preferences are based on the principle of social exchange. "If a person values service to others over self-enhancement, they expect guidance and protection in return, but if they prefer self-enhancement to service, they have no reason to expect assistance and need to rely on their own devices," the authors explain. The expectations of protection and guidance from others are reflected in values such as security, conformity and tradition – i.e. values rejected by ​​individualists who prefer independence and risk instead.

Magun and Rudnev suggest that the state can also serve as an individual's social partner; this means that both value types with a social focus "may be inclined to serve and trust those who are endorsed by the state and rely on information and protection offered by the state."

In contrast, people who value growth over self-protection do not usually associate altruism with social dependence. "People belonging to this type tend to be strongly committed to serving others, yet they do not expect guidance or protection in return, but prefer independence and are willing to take risks. It is the altruism of independent people", Magun and Rudnev note. People belonging to the growth values class on average are younger, more educated, more affluent and come from families of higher social strata than members of other value classes. "We believe that the emergence of such values is based on the availability of resources, including human capital (education), social capital (trust in others), financial capital (one's basic needs are met), and others," Rudnev explains.

Individualism on the Rise in Russia

People with a preference for growth values are better represented in Northern and Western Europe than in the Mediterranean and post-socialist countries; in Russia, they stand at some 2% of the total population.

The distribution of value classes across four groups of European countries in 2008, 2010 and 2012

"In Russia, the distribution of value types is ​​similar to that in other post-socialist states and Mediterranean countries, but markedly different from that found in Nordic countries and in Western Europe: 2% to 3% in Russia vs. on average of 24% to 36% in the Nordic countries and Western Europe," according to Magun and Rudnev.

In the past few years, the share of the growth values class has remained unchanged, yet certain changes have been observed in the relative proportions of groups with a social vs. personal focus, from a slight predominance of the latter in 2008 to a reversed trend in 2012, when people with a personal focus outweighed those with a social focus by 54% to 44%. According to the authors, the changes have been driven by both value components of individualism, i.e. a growing preference for openness to change vs. conservation and self-enhancement vs. self-transcendence. Magun and Rudnev's earlier studies confirm that younger generations in nearly all post-socialist countries show a tend towards individualistic values as compared to older generations of the same countries, and this difference between generations is greater in post-socialist countries than in countries of Western and Northern Europe. According to Rudnev, "this is mainly due to the emergence of new generations of Russians who grew up in a new socioeconomic environment after the breakup of the Soviet system."


Author: Marina Selina, June 24, 2015