Culture As A Variable In Marketing Research


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A countrys culture has been recognized as a significant environmental variable causing fundamental variations in behaviour. Cultural norms, customs and beliefs play important role in influencing people's sensitivities, perceptions, outlooks, dispositions, attitudes, and behaviours (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Culture is a collective phenomenon that is shared among members, and this 'shared' component distinguishes one group of people from another (Fischer, 2009). It is mirrored in "general tendencies of persistent preference for particular states of affairs over others, persistent preferences for specific social processes over others, and general rules for selective attention, interpretation of environmental cues, and responses" (Tse, Lee, Vertinsky, & Wehrung, 1988, p. 82).

Most of the marketing theories have been theorized and tested in the western countries, especially the US, and there has been tendency of applying them in other countries without taking into account the cultural dissimilarities, which has been one of the predominant reasons for many business failures (Ricks, 1993). Hence, it is imperative that various marketing theories and models developed in the western countries be tested and examined in other cultural settings to uncover the boundary conditions before generalizing the applicability of the same. Understanding the role of national culture in marketing explains us "the many ways in which our theories and paradigms are a reflection of the culture in which they were developed" (Iyengar & Lepper, 1999, p. 364). For instance, well-known theories, frameworks, concepts and approaches, such as preference modeling, cognitive dissonance, individual choice modeling, attribution theory, etc. which are applicable in the western culture may not be applicable to collectivistic cultures without adaptations and modifications (Iyengar & Lepper, 1999). In this paper, I endeavour to examine the importance of national culture in international marketing research with particular focus to national cultural frameworks.

The remaining part of this paper is divided in 6 parts. In the second part, I briefly explain the three main national cultural frameworks, namely Hofstede's (1980, 1991), Hamden-Turner and Trompenaars's (2003), and Schwartz's (1994, 1997) framework. In the next part, I explore the inter-linkages between Hofstede's (1980, 1991) and Schwartz's (1994, 1997) frameworks to arrive at an integrated national cultural framework. In the fourth section, I analyze the utility and importance of national culture as a critical variable in international marketing research and place national culture in the context of layers of culture, ranging from global cultures to micro-cultures. In the next section, I review the process by which individual acculturation takes place. In the penultimate, section, I look at and evaluate the antecedents of national culture. In conclusion, I explain the contributions made by this paper and give suggestions for future research.

National cultural frameworks

National culture has many aspects. While some aspect may be pertinent only for a particular society or group, others may be relevant for multiple societies. In this paper, I focus on those aspects of culture, which are pertinent for multiple societies. Earlier, at times cross-cultural research was supposed to be less rigorous due to lack of theory-based robust national-cultural frameworks. Valid theoretical model and frameworks demarcating dimensions of national cultural dissimilarities are critical in creating a nomological framework that is capable of integrating varied attitudinal and behavioural phenomena and provides a basis for developing hypotheses explaining systematic dissimilarities between cultures in attitudes and behaviour (Smith, Dugan, & Trompenaars, 1996). Such theoretical models and frameworks are essential to move international marketing research beyond exploratory, qualitative comparisons that are difficult to validate or imitate.

Three rigorous, comprehensive cultural frameworks have been developed in the last two decades - the Hofstede (1980, 1991), the Schwartz (1994, 1997) and the Hamden-Turner and Trompenaars (2003). These frameworks can be used by the international marketing researchers for cross-national theorizing and for designing studies. They serve as the point of departure for understanding different layers of culture, for starting to understand and test antecedents of national culture, and for assessing cultural stability, among others.

Hofstede's framework

The national cultural framework developed by Hofstede (1980, 1991) is one of the most influential and comprehensive frameworks to understand national cultures. Hofstede used a combination of empirical and diverse analyses on 116, 000 employees of employees of IBM spread across 72 countries to derive and define the dimensions of cultural variations. Initially, Hofstede developed four dimensions of cultural variation - power distance, individualism-collectivism, uncertainty avoidance and masculinity-femininity. These dimensions are based on four fundamental problems with which the society is confronted with.

Power Distance: It deals with inequality between people in any society. Large power distance (PD) means 'Inequality is a normal and desirable thing' and small PD means 'Inequality should be avoided as much as possible.' (for e.g., Asians have a higher power distance than western cultures).

Individualism/Collectivism: It deals with the relationship between individuals within a society. Individualism is 'everybody for him or herself' and collectivism is, 'People should remain, attached to tight groups throughout life' (Asian countries are more collectivist - Western Countries more Individualistic).

Uncertainty Avoidance: It deals with the level of anxiety in a society when it is confronted with the unknown. Strong uncertainty avoidance is fear of the unknown and weak uncertainty Avoidance is curiosity roused by the unknown (Asian countries differ as much among one another as western countries).

Masculinity/Femininity: It deals with the social roles in a society related to being born as a boy or as a girl. Masculinity means 'social gender roles should be maximally different'. It leads to a 'tough society'. Femininity means 'social gender roles should be maximally overlapping'. It leads to a tender society. (Asian countries differ as much among one another as western countries).

Later, another dimension - long-term orientation - was added in the framework, which relates to the time perspective in a society for the gratification of people's needs

v. Long-term orientation: It implies a stress on virtuous living in this world, with thrift and persistence as key virtues Short Term Orientation implies seeking immediate gratification. (Asian countries are a more long-term orientation).

Sivakumar and Nakata (2001) have reported 1,101 citations to his work in the period 1987-1997. Fernandez, Carlson, Stepina, & Nicholson (1997, pp. 43-44) call it "a watershed conceptual foundation for many subsequent cross-national research endeavors." His framework has been applied to investigate a number of marketing issues such as the use of humor in ads (Alden, Hoyer, & Lee, 1993), response style tendencies (Baumgartner & Steenkamp, 1999), consumer responses to market signals of quality (Dawar & Parker, 1994), consumer tipping decisions (Lynn, Zinkhan, & Harris, 1993), new product development (Nakata & Sivakumar, 1996), brand market share (Roth, 1995), and consumer innovativeness (Steenkamp, ter Hofstede, & Wedel, 1999). Hofstede (1991) provides the ratings of 50 countries and three regions on these dimensions.

Given the pervasive influence of Hofstede's work across the academic community, and the overabundance of findings, implications, and recommendations arising from these studies, it would be reasonable to assume that the validity of the cultural framework has been fully established. However, despite the fact that many studies have employed Hofstede's framework, it has not been subjected to rigorous tests of reliability and validity (Churchill 1979; Schwab 1980). This oversight is somewhat surprising, given that one of the foundations of the scientific method is that tests and measures be rigorously scrutinized to ascertain their reliability and validity (see Cook & Campbell 1979). Perhaps it is because Hofstede's cultural framework is so appealing from a conceptual standpoint that its psychometric properties have received little scrutiny. Several studies, though, raise legitimate concerns about the empirical validity of Hofstede's framework. Soondergaard (1994), for example, conducted an extensive analysis of those studies that have attempted to validate Hofstede's research. Interestingly, almost two-thirds of these studies found little or no support for Hofstede's cultural framework. Studies that have focused on the individual dimensions of culture also cast doubt on the framework; some have found significant overlap among the various dimensions of culture (e.g., Bakir, Blodgett, Vitell, & Rose, 2000), and others have found the reliability of some of the dimensions to be low (Kagitcibasi 1994). Together, these findings highlight the need for investigations of the validity of the cultural framework. Besides, the correspondence between the items used to measure the cultural dimensions and the conceptual definition of these dimensions is tenuous. It is also not clear whether the items have the same meaning in different countries. Country scores are based on matched samples of IBM employees, which are not necessarily representative for their countries. This may apply especially to less-developed countries. Data collection took place in 1967-1973, although Hoppe (1990) conducted an update for 19 countries in 1984 and found reasonable stability (rs varying between 0.56 and 0.69). Hofstede's items refer to work-related values, which might not completely overlap with priorities of people in other roles (e.g. consumers). Hofstede's dimension of masculinity/femininity has been criticized as being time-and context-specific.

Schwartz's framework

Schwartz (1994, 1997), Schwartz and Ros (1995), Smith and Schwartz (1997) have proposed an alternative framework for culture. This framework is based on Scwartz's ground-breaking work on human values. This framework is, however, not very well known in marketing research. Schwartz values are based on needs derived from:

relations between individual and group;

assuring responsible social behaviour; and

the role of humankind in the natural and social world.

The cultural adaptations to resolve each of these issues constitute Schwartz's framework, which consists of three bipolar dimensions, defining seven national-cultural domains, namely conservatism, intellectual autonomy, affective autonomy, . Hierarchy, egalitarianism, harmony, and mastery.

Conservatism versus autonomy: Conservatism describes cultures in which the person is looked upon as an entity that is embedded in the collectivity. Emphasis is given to maintenance of the status quo, propriety, and restraint of actions that might disrupt the solidarity of a group or the existing order. Autonomy describes cultures in which the person is viewed as an autonomous, bounded entity that finds meaning in their own uniqueness and seeks to express their own internal attributes. Two types of autonomy are distinguished; (i) intellectual autonomy, and (ii) affective autonomy. Intellectual autonomy refers to ideas and thoughts, the right of individuals to follow their own intellectual directions. Affective autonomy refers to feelings and emotions, the right of individuals to pursue their own affectively positive experiences. This dimension resembles Hofstede's individualism/collectivism dimension. However, while the Schwartz dimension focuses on the role of the individual within society and examines the extent to which a society views the individual as either autonomous or embedded in the group, Hofstede's individualism/collectivism focuses on the contrast between individual goals versus group goals.

Hierarchy versus egalitarianism: One way to assure socially responsible behaviour is through a hierarchical system of ascribed roles. It emphasizes the legitimacy of fixed roles and resource allocation. An alternative solution to the societal issue of responsible social behaviour is to induce people to recognize that they have shared interests that can serve as bases for voluntary agreements to cooperate. In egalitarian cultures, people are socialized to internalize a commitment to voluntary cooperation with others and to feel concern for everyone's welfare. This cultural domain emphasizes transcendence of selfish interests.

A society's response to the third societal issue of the relation of humankind to the surrounding natural and social world can take two forms. One response, labeled mastery, is to seek to actively master and change the world, to bend it to our will and to assert control, and on getting ahead through active self-assertion. Another response, labeled harmony, is to accept the world as it is, trying to preserve it rather than to change or exploit it. Schwartz (1994) provides ratings on the seven domains for 31 countries.

Schwartz's framework is based on empirical analyses of country-level responses of large groups of people (mostly students and teachers). There is a close match between the definition of the seven cultural domains and the items, and the items were shown to have similar meanings across cultures. The items are broader than Hofstede's work-related items. On the other hand, the type of items Schwartz had in his data sets limited the derivation of the cultural domains/dimensions. These items were developed to measure individual-level value dimensions. Moreover, whereas the usefulness of the Hofstede framework in international marketing is well established, Schwartz's framework has yet to be applied widely. However, given its strong theoretical foundations, it offers great potential for international marketing research.

Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars framework (2003)

This framework describes seven important dimensions/dilemmas on which cultures disagree. This scheme was put forward in 1997 in 'Riding the Waves of Culture'.

Universalism versus particularism: What is the relative salience of rules (universal) or exceptions (particulars)?

Analysed specifics versus integrated wholes: Are we more effective as managers when we analyse phenomena into specifics (i.e. facts, parts, targets) or when we integrate and configure such details into diffuse patterns.

Individualism versus Communitarianism: Is it more important to focus upon the enhancement of each individual or should more attention be paid to the advancement of the corporation as a community.

Inner directed versus outer directed orientation: Is virtue and right direction located within us or outside us?

Time as sequence versus time as Synchronization: Is it more important to do things fast (time as a race) or to synchronize all efforts, just in time so that completion is coordinated (time as a dance).

Achieved Status versus ascribed: Should status of an employee defined on what they have achieved or on other criteria age, seniority, gender etc.

Equality versus hierarchy: Is it more important to treat employees as equals or to emphasize the judgment and authority of the hierarchy.

However, this framework has not been used in marketing research. Hence, in this paper, I will not be dealing with this framework anymore. Thus, international marketing researchers have two well-developed national cultural schemes at their disposal. These two frameworks are quite robust as they are based on extensive and globally dispersed samples. Dependent on one's theoretical predictions and the sample of nations, either or both of the schemes can be used. For example, Schwartz's sample of nations includes nine Eastern European countries, while Hofstede's data set contains more countries from South Asia and Latin America.

Towards an Integrated National Cultural Framework

There have been some efforts to assess the relationship between Schwartz's and Hofstede's frameworks. Although Schwartz (1994, p. 117) argued that his value types were different to Hofstede dimensions, as they were:

. . . based on different theoretical reasoning, different methods, a different set of nations, different types of respondents, data from a later historical period, a more comprehensive set of values, and value items screened to be reasonably equivalent in meaning across cultures.

He also suggested that his framework included Hofstede's dimensions. Schwartz (1994) reported that Hofstede's individualism score was positively correlated (p < 0.05) with his affective autonomy (0.46), intellectual autonomy (0.53) and egalitarian (0.51) dimensions, and was negatively correlated with conservatism (-.56) and hierarchy (-.51). Hofstede's power distance score was positively correlated with conservatism (.45) and negatively correlated with his affective autonomy (-.45) dimension. Further, Hofstede's uncertainty avoidance score was positively correlated with harmony (0.43) and Hofstede's masculinity score was positively correlated with mastery (0.56).

Smith, Peterson, and Schwartz (2002) also found significant correlations (p < 0.05) between Schwartz's (1999) three higher order dimensions and Hofstede's dimensions. Hofstede's individualism was positively correlated with Schwartz's autonomy-embeddedness (r = 0.64) and egalitarianism-hierarchy (r = 0.50) dimensions. Hofstede's power distance was negatively correlated with Schwartz's three dimensions (autonomy-embeddedness (r = -0.52), egalitarianism-hierarchy (r = -0.41), and harmony-mastery (r = -0.29)). Hofstede's uncertainty avoidance was positively correlated with Schwartz's egalitarianism-hierarchy (r = 0.29) dimension.

Steenkamp (2001) used factor analysis to assess possible overlap between the dimensions included in the two cultural frameworks. Using value ratings from the 24 countries included in both Hofstede's (1980) and Schwartz's (1994) studies, Steenkamp (2001) found four dimensions, which he termed autonomy versus collectivism, egalitarian versus hierarchy, mastery versus nurturance and uncertainty avoidance. The first dimension was related to Schwartz's intellectual autonomy (+), affective autonomy (+) and conservatism (-) dimensions and Hofstede's individualism (+) and power distance (-) dimensions. The second factor was related to Schwartz's egalitarian (+), harmony (+) and hierarchy (-) dimensions. The third factor was related to Schwartz's mastery (+) dimension and Hofstede's masculinity (+) dimension. The fourth factor was related to Schwartz's harmony (+) dimension and Hofstede's uncertainty avoidance (+) dimension. As such, three of the four factors were related to dimensions from both frameworks.

Usefulness of National Culture as Analytical Basis

Cross-cultural research in marketing and other social science disciplines has mostly used country as the basic unit of analysis (e.g. Lynn et al., 1993; Roth, 1995; Schwartz and Ros, 1995; Steenkamp et al., 1999). But it is important to note that this does not imply that country and culture are the same: national boundaries do not always coincide with culturally homogeneous societies. This raises a very important question: can culture be validly conceptualized at the national level?

A culture can be validly conceptualized at the national level if there exists some meaningful degree of within-country commonality and between-country differences in culture. Review of the extant literature actually gives supports this suggestion. Hofstede (1991, p. 12) argued that today's nations "are the source of a considerable amount of common mental programming of their citizens'' due to a relatively similar history, language, political, legal and educational environment, among others. This does not imply that countries are fully homogeneous, but means that there are forces pushing to a meaningful degree of within-country commonality. Many others (e.g. Smith & Bond, 1993; Smith et al., 1996; Schwartz, 1994) share Hofstede's position.

Moreover, the empirical work by Hofstede (1980; 1991), Hoppe (1990), Schwartz (1994), and Smith et al. (1996), among others, shows that there is systematic variation between countries on the national-cultural level. The countries are clearly separated from each other on national-cultural dimensions. If there were no degree of commonality within countries and diversity between countries, such results would be unlikely to emerge. Hofstede (1980) found that, even for countries that are less well culturally integrated, the different ethnic and/or linguistic groups have important commonality in culture in comparison to the population of other countries. Smith and Schwartz (1997, p. 112) report that cultural differences among samples from three regions in China, three in Japan, and five in the US "were dwarfed by the much larger differences between nations." Schwartz and Ros (1995) found across a sample of 13 countries that nation accounted for about three times more variance in the ratings on the items used to measure national culture than any within-national variable examined, such as gender, education, age, and marital status.

Finally, conceptual and empirical studies in marketing and other social sciences that examine cultural effects at the country level have yielded many important and interesting insights (e.g. Alden et al., 1993; Lynn et al., 1993; Roth, 1995; Smith and Bond, 1993; Steenkamp et al., 1999; Tse et al., 1988). If there were no degree of within-country commonality and between-country differences in culture, such findings would be hard, if not impossible to achieve.

Layers of culture

It is important to appreciate that the national level is not the only level at which culture can be operationalized. Schwartz and Ros (1995, p. 95) argue that "culture-level dimensions should be derived from analyses of the dynamics of conflict and compatibility that cultural groups experience when pursuing and justifying their actions." These cultural groups can be defined and studied at different levels, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive. We can distinguish between meta (pan-regional, global) culture, national culture, and micro culture.

Meta cultures

Clusters of countries may show a number of common pan-regional cultural characteristics (Ronen & Shenkar, 1985; Smith & Schwartz, 1997). There is also growing evidence of developing global cultures with emphasis on modernity, technology, freedom, and individual choice. These cultures are less crystallized as yet and are shared not so much between countries as between particular individuals within countries. Hannerz (1990, p. 237) notes that global cultures are emerging as a result of the "increasing interconnectedness of varied local cultures as well as through the development of cultures without a clear anchorage in any one territory." People belonging to global culture associate similar meanings with certain places, people and things (Alden, Steenkamp, & Batra, 1999a). They share sets of symbols (e.g. brands, consumption activities), experiences (e.g. travel), and attitudes (e.g. cosmopolitan outlook) (Hannerz, 1990).

Appadurai (1990) proposes a predominantly relevant diffusion framework for global culture with five paths of cross-cultural flow (termed "scapes"). These are "ethnoscapes" (involving persons moving around the world as refugees, tourists, foreign students, immigrants, etc.), "technoscapes" (global configuration of technology), "finanscapes" (financial markets and money flows), "ideoscapes" (political ideas and ideologies), and "mediascapes" (the media themselves and the images of the world created by them). Of particular importance to marketing is the mediascape. Mass media programming, flowing primarily from the US, has played a major role in the creation of global cultures (Appadurai, 1990).

Some recent empirical research sheds light on the emergence of global cultures. Alden et al. (1999a) introduced the concept of global consumer culture positioning, while studies by Dawar and Parker (1994), ter Hofstede, Steenkamp, and Wedel (1999) and Wedel, ter Hofstede, and Steenkamp (1998) provide evidence for the existence of pan-regional or global consumer segments.

Micro cultures

While meta culture is even more general than national culture, micro or subculture is more specific. As societies become less homogeneous, due to for e.g., individualization and migration, it becomes increasingly important to study within-country cultural heterogeneity. A micro culture preserves important patterns of the national culture but also develops its own unique patterns of dispositions and behaviour. Such micro cultures may be defined on various overlapping criteria, including, for example, language, ethnicity, religion, age, urbanization, and social class. The domain of micro culture is relatively understudied, and many issues still have to be resolved. For example, it is unclear whether micro cultures can be defined on common dimensions, like national cultures, and whether micro cultures share cultural characteristics across countries. The mutual influences of micro cultures and national culture also need more attention.

Acculturation to another national culture

With increasing cross-cultural contact and globalization of marketing activities, the issue of how individuals react to the national culture of other countries becomes increasingly important for marketers (Alden, Steenkamp, & Batra, 1999b). The most intense form is migration, where individuals move to another country. Many of the early acculturation models assumed a linear progression (Gordon, 1964) from arrival to "assimilation" within the national culture of the host country. Wallendorf and Reilly (1983) challenged the linear model and found that the Mexican-American immigrants in their sample consumed greater amounts of traditional American foods than did Anglos. They hypothesized that Mexican-Americans may have "over-assimilated" due to exaggerated mental representations of US life, in part from media imagery. Jun, Ball, and Gentry (1993) argued that acculturation is best described as a U-shaped process. As such, it is hypothesized to begin with a "honeymoon" phase (similar to Wallendorf and Reilly's (1983) concept of "over-­assimilation"), followed by a rejection phase and, ultimately, a more stable relationship with the host culture. However, as individuals move toward this equilibrium relationship, they may "experience the honeymoon and rejection stage more than once," suggesting that the process is dynamic and cyclical (Jun et al., 1993, p. 77).

Acculturation to another culture is most compelling in the case of actual migration but also occurs through other forms of cross-cultural contact. Two important "milder" forms are mass mediation and vicarious mass migration (Appadurai, 1996). Mass mediation may be local in scope but Appadurai (1996, p. 4) notes that "few important films, news broadcasts or television spectacles are entirely unaffected by other media events that come from further afield." Mass media are a channel for transmitting events, images, and other information from other cultures. Concerning vicarious mass migration, Appadurai (1996, p. 4) argues that "few people in the world today do not have a friend, relative, or co-worker who is not on the road to somewhere else or already coming back home, bearing stories and possibilities." Tourism could also be placed in this category. It is a kind of temporary migration with an easy opportunity to opt out of the foreign culture. With the huge increase of actual migration, vicarious migration, and mass mediation, understanding acculturation processes is more important than ever.

Berry, Kim, Power, Young, and Bujaki (1989) and Berry and Sam (1997) proposed a comprehensive model of acculturation responses. They distinguished two dimensions; (i) whether the person wants to maintain their own cultural identity (cultural maintenance), and (ii) whether the person wants to become involved with the national culture in the host country (contact and participation). Dependent on the answer to both questions, people will exhibit any of four acculturation strategies: integration (both maintenance and participation), assimilation (participation while rejecting one's own original cultural background), separation (maintenance while rejecting the national culture of the host country), and marginalization (rejection of both cultures). Alden et al. (1999b) recently used Berry et al.'s (1989) model to understand people's acculturation response to the emerging global culture. They found that people who showed a greater inclination to acculturate to the global culture (either through integration or assimilation) were better educated, had been more exposed to mass-mediated events, were more exposed to vicarious mass-migration, and had more admiration for other countries.

Antecedents of National Culture

Unfortunately, the antecedents of a national culture have attracted little attention, especially with respect to marketing research. We do not know clear understanding of some very fundamental questions; (i) Why is one country high on individualism and another country high on uncertainty avoidance? (ii) Which socioeconomic, geographic, historical, and other factors are underlying causes of the differences between countries in national culture? Though different scholars have examined these issues but the studies have not been comprehensive enough. The most comprehensive investigations carried out to explain this important issue is that Hofstede (1980). He conducted correlation analyses and provided numerous speculations about the origins of cross-national differences. Hofstede correlated his four dimensions with six economic, geographic and demographic variables, among others. GNP/capita and latitude (a proxy for climate) showed the strongest relations. GNP/capita was negatively correlated with power distance (r = -0.65, p < 0.001) and uncertainty avoidance (r = -0.30, p < 0.05), and positively correlated with individualism (r = 0.82, p < 0.001). Thus, the richer a country, the more individualistic the country is and the lower she rates on power distance and uncertainty avoidance. Wealth makes people independent.

Latitude was negatively correlated with power distance (r = -0.65, p < 0.001) and masculinity (r = -0.31, p < 0.05), and positively correlated with individualism (r = 0.75, p < 0.001). Hofstede argued that colder climates promote cultural individualism and lower power distance because survival in such climes is hypothesized to require greater personal initiative. The rationale for the correlation with masculinity is less clear. Parker and Tavassoli (1997, 2000) developed a detailed argument concerning the effect of climate on national culture, and on individualism in particular through the limiting and motivating influence of climate on the type of social processes (amount of time spent outdoors, which in colder climes is much less) and economic activities.

Another antecedent is religion. Hofstede (1980) found that the ratio of Catholics (versus Protestants) in a country is negatively related to individualism (r = -0.63, p < 0.001), and positively related to power distance (r = 0.68, p < 0.001), uncertainty avoidance (r = 0.76, p < 0.001), and masculinity (r = 0.40, p < 0.05). The correlations with the first three dimensions are consistent with the hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, the certainty it offers in its teachings and rituals, and the relative de-emphasis of personal responsibility (compared to Protestant denominations). It is also consistent with McClelland (1961). The correlation with masculinity is less obvious and may be spurious.

In what might be one of the most rigorous theory-driven studies on antecedents of national culture, Triandis, McCusker, and Hui, (1990) proposed a detailed set of hypotheses concerning the antecedents of national-cultural individualism. They hypothesize that affluence and urbanism have a positive effect on the degree of individualism, while the presence of larger families and the greater importance of agriculture have a negative effect. Steenkamp et al. (1999) tested these hypotheses for a sample of 11 European Union countries, and found that they were mostly supported. A country's rating on the individualism dimension correlated 0.54 (p < 0.05) with GNP/capita corrected for purchasing power, 0.66 (p < 0.05) with the degree of urbanization, -0.29 (p = 0.19) with the number of occupants per dwelling, and -0.76 (p < 0.01) with the proportion of the workforce working in agriculture.

Schwartz and Bardi (1997) examined the influence of the political system on national culture. They found that the systematic differences between Western and Eastern Europe could be well explained by the influences of adaptation to Communism in Eastern Europe. Alternative explanations, such as differences in economic development, religion, and earlier history, were examined but proved to be less strong and consistent predictors.

Although a number of valuable insights have been obtained, research on the antecedents of national culture suffers from at least two weaknesses.

Firstly, all explanations, while valuable in their own right, are piecemeal. There is no rigorous, comprehensive theory explaining cultural variation across nations. Parker and Tavassoli's (1997, 2000) work on physio-economics is an important step in this direction and deserves further attention. However, it cannot easily explain large cultural differences between countries that are geographically close (e.g. Belgium and The Netherlands).

Secondly, the causal relation between antecedents and culture is not always clear cut. Consider the high correlation between GNP/capita and individualism. It is unclear whether an individualistic culture stimulates wealth - as neoclassical economists would argue - or that wealthier societies become more individualistic, since the economic security provided by the group becomes less important - as some sociologists would maintain. This argument may be less pertinent for religion or climate. However, one may wonder why Protestantism caught on in particular parts of Europe in the first place. It is not unlikely that those parts were more individualistic. Reverse causation for climate is not possible, but one cannot rule out the possibility that part of the effect of climate is due to its effect on the socio-economic environment. As such, the effect of climate may be indirect, which still calls for identification and examination of the mediating socio-economic variables.


In the last three decades, lot of research has been conducted on national culture and its interrelations with marketing and other social science disciplines and much of the progress in the field is attributed to the basic research describing rudimentary dimensions of national culture. But it is being severely criticized also for being too simplistic as it is felt that culture is a complex a phenomenon, which cannot be captured in a few dimensions. The scholars agree that it is difficult to comprehensively describe the culture of societies in their complete richness and complexity by a few set of dimensions. However, one must agree with Schwartz and Ros (1995) that "resigning ourselves to unique, thick descriptions for each group would preclude the comparative approach to which many cross-culturalists are committed. The ultimate goal is to find a limited set of dimensions that captures the most prominent differences, integrates multiple cultural features, and relates meaningfully to socio-historical variables" (p. 118).

In earlier research, the sampling of particular national cultures has been more often than not a matter of convenience. This may be an acceptable procedure when the goal of the study is to establish generalizability of one's findings across cultural contexts. But when cultural factors are part of the theoretical framework, and one of the goal(s) of the study is to test the effects of culture, it is important that the countries sampled differ sufficiently on the focal dimension(s). Sivakumar and Nakata (2001) have developed a method based on Hofstede's framework to design more optimal multi-country samples.

There are large numbers of issues that needs to be addressed in future research. Firstly, there is a need to develop a complete set of cultural dimensions. In this paper, I have analyzed the communalities between the Hofstede's and Schwartz's theoretical frameworks, but more work is necessary in this area as this paper as well as the works done by others have been dominated by industrialized nations. It is not very clear whether the dimensions of culture described in Hofstede's and Schwartz's theoretical frameworks sufficiently explain the national culture of less developed countries. Moreover, some important aspects such as the time perspective of culture also appear to be missing. Secondly, the issue of temporal stability of culture and related areas such as what is the rate of change of culture and what are its drivers also needs to be adequately developed. These questions can be answered by a sustained longitudinal study which will also be helpful in addressing the question of causality. Thirdly, future research should also develop and test multi-layered theories and models, specifying meta-, national-, and micro-cultural, and individual-level effects and their interrelations (Steenkamp et al., 1999). Such models would help in better understanding of the role of culture in attitudes and behaviour. Lastly, another important research direction could be to understand the acculturation processes: how do people react to other cultures and is it dependent on the acculturation mode (e.g. vicarious versus actual migration)?

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