Situation: In many countries today, society is undergoing a transition from the values of collectivism to those of individualism. The latter contributes to the construction of biographical paths, professional careers and lifestyles of young people with a focus on self rather than on the expectations of others. For a long time, therefore, individualism was thought to prevail among young people.
In fact: The values of collectivism remain important for young people. They promote a sense of loyalty to family and a willingness to accept support from loved ones. Young people who value mutual assistance and a close relationship with others are more satisfied with life, regardless of whether they belong to a collectivist or individualist type of culture.
An international group of scientists from Italy, the USA, China and Russia have studied the relationship between collectivism, individualism and life satisfaction among young people aged 18-25 in four countries. They found that the higher the index of individualistic values at the country level, the higher the life satisfaction of young people’s lives. At the individual level, however, collectivism was more significant for young people. In all countries, young people found a positive association between collectivism, particularly with regard to family ties, and life satisfaction. This somewhat contradicts and at the same time clarifies the results of previous studies. Russia was represented in the research group by Sofya Nartova-Bochaver, Professor at HSE University’s School of Psychology. The results of the study have been published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.
Research shows that cultural factors play a significant role in explaining differences in indicators of subjective well-being and, in particular, life satisfaction.
Life satisfaction is one component of subjective well-being. It is an individual assessment of the correlation of living conditions with standards, a sense of correspondence between desires and needs on the one hand, and achievements and resources on the other.
Cultural factors include the values of individualism or collectivism. In general, an understanding of individualism is based on the assumption that people are independent of each other. It is a worldview centred on personal goals, uniqueness and control. Collectivism, on the other hand, assumes the importance of connections with others and mutual obligations.
Scientists distinguish between collectivism and individualism both at the cultural level (part of the national culture) and at the individual level (the individual's worldview). In this case, within the scope of the approach taken by the American psychologist Harry Triandis, individualism and collectivism can be considered in two dimensions — horizontal and vertical:
Vertical Individualism (VI) is characterized by a desire to be outstanding and gain status through competition with others.
Horizontal Individualism (HI) is related to the desire to be unique, different from the group and able to rely on oneself.
Vertical Collectivism (VC) is characteristic of people who emphasize the integrity of their group and maintain competition with outgroups (a group of people to which the individual feels no sense of identity or belonging), as well as the possible subordination of their desires to authority.
Horizontal Collectivism (HC) is related to the desire to be like others, to follow common values, and to live interdependently without having to submit to authority.
The study’s authors set out to discover how different dimensions of collectivism and individualism relate to life satisfaction in young people during early adulthood.
The study involved 1,760 young boys and girls aged 18-25 from China, Italy, Russia and the USA — countries that differ greatly in their individualistic values index. The average age of the respondents was around 20 years old. All of them university students, studying primarily social and behavioural sciences.
According to Hofstede's model, Italy and the United States are individualist cultures, while China and Russia are collectivist.
The study used special methods and questionnaires to identify individual levels of collectivism and individualism — the Horizontal and Vertical Individualism and Collectivism Scale (INDCOL), as well as the level of life satisfaction — the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS). The influence of gender, age and cultural differences on life satisfaction was taken into account.
At the country level, it was confirmed that individualism is closely linked to the degree of life satisfaction among young people. The higher the country's index of individualistic values, the more satisfied respondents are with their lives. Americans are the luckiest in this regard, as the USA has the highest individualism index, followed by Italians in second place and Russians and Chinese in third and fourth place, respectively.
Here, however, the researchers make it clear that this situation can occur not only because Americans and Italians are more satisfied with life, thanks to their countries’ individualistic culture, but also because of differences in social inequality, the increased availability of opportunities and future life prospects.
At an individual level, the results were different — life satisfaction showed a positive correlation with the two collectivist dimensions (vertical and horizontal) regardless of the type of culture. However, no significant correlations were found with either vertical or horizontal individualism.
The study showed that the degree of life satisfaction among young people is related to interdependence and social communication in different types of cultures. The researchers cite the example of Russians and Italians. For both, although some live in a collectivist country and others in an individualist one, life satisfaction is positively related to the successful fulfilment of social roles and obligations. Although this is to be expected, the transition to adulthood in Italy, as the authors note, is strongly intertwined with family relationships.
Previous research on American samples has not shown a relationship between life satisfaction and mutual social commitment. But this study did, for both levels of collectivism.
Overall, the fact that vertical collectivism, namely family ties and the obligation to take care of one's family, even at the expense of one's own needs, contributes positively to life satisfaction is unexpected and noteworthy, say the researchers. At the same time, the findings show correlation with a recent study proving that family and social relations are important basic components of happiness in different countries, regardless of gender and age.
Early adulthood is a period when there are still few social obligations and more opportunities to live out individualistic values. The original hypothesis of the study was that levels of life satisfaction are positively related to individualistic values at a personal level. Concluding this would have confirmed the results of much previous work. However, the results turned out to be the opposite.
The authors note that this study is more age-restricted than previous ones and also looks at the relationship between life satisfaction and different dimensions of individualism and collectivism. The new findings suggest that further research in this area is needed to clarify the particular influence of individualist and collectivist values on different aspects of subjective well-being.
Alessandro Germani, University of Perugia (Italy)
Elisa Delvecchio, University of Perugia (Italy)
Jian-Bin Li, The Education University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong)
Adriana Lis, University of Padua (Italy)
Sofya K.Nartova-Bochaver, Professor, Leading Research Fellow, School of Psychology, HSE University
Alexander T.Vazsonyi, University of Kentucky (USA)
Claudia Mazzeschi, University of Perugia (Italy)