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"The values held by a society define its political and social structure. Shifts in these values reflect broader cultural and economic changes"

Marta Lagos

professor of political Science

Understanding Cultural Shifts Through the World Values Survey

posted in Values

In our fast-paced, interconnected world, understanding the core values that drive societies across the globe has never been more critical. The World Values Survey (WVS) provides a comprehensive look into these values, offering insights into cultural shifts and the impact of changing societal norms.

What is the World Values Survey?

The World Values Survey is a large-scale, cross-national, and longitudinal research project that explores people’s values and beliefs, how they change over time, and what social and political impact they have. Since its inception in 1981, the WVS has been conducted in nearly 100 countries, capturing data from societies representing over 90% of the world's population.

Why Values Matter

Values are the deeply held beliefs that guide our actions and decisions. They are the compass that directs us toward what we consider important and meaningful in life. The survey's findings highlight how these values evolve and adapt in response to cultural, economic, and political changes.

In my work, I emphasize the importance of aligning personal values with professional and organizational values. As outlined in other posts, understanding and articulating your values can lead to better decision-making and greater fulfillment, both personally and professionally.

Key Findings from the World Values Survey

The WVS reveals significant trends and patterns in global values. Here are a few key insights:

  1. Shift Towards Individualism: Many societies, especially in high-income countries, have shifted from traditional, community-focused values to more individualistic ones. This trend reflects a greater emphasis on personal freedom, self-expression, and quality of life.
  2. Rising Secular-Rational Values: As societies develop economically, there is a noticeable move away from traditional religious values towards more secular-rational values. This shift often accompanies changes in political and social structures.
  3. Persistent Inequalities: Despite progress in various areas, the survey highlights ongoing disparities in gender equality, access to education, and economic opportunities. These inequalities continue to shape the values and aspirations of different societies.

Key Findings and Value Conflicts

The WVS identifies a range of values that often conflict with one another, reflecting deeper societal tensions. I explore values conflicts in other blogs on this site. Here are a few notable examples of values conflicts from the WVS:

  1. Traditional vs. Secular-Rational Values: Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, family, and national pride, often leading to resistance against secularism and modernity. In contrast, secular-rational values prioritize individualism, scientific reasoning, and a more pragmatic approach to life. This clash is evident in debates over issues like marriage equality, reproductive rights, and the role of religion in public life.
  2. Survival vs. Self-Expression Values: Survival values focus on economic and physical security, often prevalent in societies facing existential threats or economic hardship. Self-expression values, on the other hand, prioritize environmental protection, tolerance of diversity, and participatory governance. The tension between these values can be seen in global discussions on climate change, immigration, and human rights.

Inglehart–Welzel Cultural Map 2023

Inglehart–Welzel Cultural Map

The Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map, developed from World Values Survey data, reveals two major dimensions of cultural variation: Traditional vs. Secular-rational values and Survival vs. Self-expression values. Traditional values emphasize religion, authority, and traditional family structures, while secular-rational values prioritize secularism, autonomy, and acceptance of practices like divorce and abortion.

The second dimension, Survival vs. Self-expression values, highlights the contrast between societies focused on economic and physical security versus those emphasizing environmental protection, tolerance, and participatory decision-making. Societies that prioritize survival values tend to be ethnocentric and intolerant, whereas those valuing self-expression emphasize individual autonomy and diversity.

These dimensions illustrate how socioeconomic development influences cultural shifts. As societies become wealthier and more secure, they tend to move from traditional to secular-rational values and from survival to self-expression values. This shift impacts everything from governance and democracy to gender equality and environmental policies, reflecting the dynamic interplay between economic progress and cultural change.

Applying WVS Insights

Understanding these value trends is crucial for leaders and organizations aiming to operate effectively in a global context. By recognizing and respecting the diverse values held by different cultures, leaders can foster more inclusive and harmonious environments.

In my executive coaching practice, I often refer to the principles outlined in the Competing Values Framework. This framework helps organizations balance competing values and create cultures that promote both innovation and stability, leading to sustained success.


The World Values Survey provides invaluable insights into the evolving landscape of global values. By understanding these trends, we can better navigate the complexities of our interconnected world and lead with empathy and effectiveness.

For more insights on values and how they shape our world, check out my blog posts on Values-Driven Achievement and Clarifying Your Values.

Understanding and leveraging values is not just a philosophical exercise; it’s a practical approach to leading a more fulfilled and impactful life. So, let’s dive into our values and let them guide us towards greater achievements and a better world.