If you look at the above findings from the seventh wave of the World Values Survey, neither Australia nor the USA is the most traditional or secular of all the countries surveyed. The USA is about as close to the middle as possible, showing a slight preference for Secular Values over Traditional Values (about 0.10 standard deviations above the average). Australia is more secular than both the USA and the world average.
Neither are Australia nor the USA the highest in terms of Self-Expression or Survival Values. The USA is just under 1.5 standard deviations higher than the world average regarding Self-Expression Values. Australia also prefers Self-Expression over Survival Values and is about 2.35 standard deviations higher than the average, which definitely puts them in the top 2.5% of all countries regarding endorsing these values.
Traditional vs. Secular Values
For the Y-axis, more traditional countries value the importance of family, religion and deferring to and being respectful of authority. Therefore, they tend to be more rejecting towards divorce, abortion, and euthanasia. Countries that are more secular place less emphasis on traditional family values, religion and authority. Divorce, abortion and euthanasia are more acceptable there than in countries that have traditional values.
Australia’s score of approximately 0.55 on the Y-axis means that it is half a standard deviation more secular than traditional. It is more secular than the UK and more secular than many countries in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Qatar has the most traditional values, but Ghana, Tanzania, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Trinidad and many others are also quite traditional.
Australia is more traditional than all Scandinavian countries, some Catholic European countries (especially the Czech Republic), and nearly all Confucian countries. In fact, Japan and South Korea are two of the highest-ranked countries globally in terms of Secular Values and are both less traditional than any country in Europe. I was quite surprised by this finding, as my Sociology lecturers at university often used Asian countries (including Japan) as the example of collectivist cultures. People in collectivist cultures are meant to put the goals and needs of the group, including what the authorities and their family say, over their individual needs and desires. Yet, their findings on the traditional — secular continuum do not seem to indicate that.
Survival vs. Self-Expression Values
This is where the findings on the X-axis are also important. Countries that endorse Survival Values prioritise physical and economic security over self-expression. As a result, they are less trusting and tolerant of outsiders or people that don’t fit in with what the average person is meant to be or do.
Countries that endorse Self-Expression Values, on the other hand, prioritise environmental protection and want greater participation in political and economic life decision-making. They also exhibit greater acceptance of differences and equality for anyone previously discriminated against, whether based on country of origin, sexuality or gender.
People from South Korea endorse Survival Values more than Self-Expression Values (approximately -0.50). Australia’s larger preference towards Self-Expression Values (about 2.35) in comparison to Asian countries might also help to explain why Asian countries were referred to in my Sociology lectures as examples of collectivist cultures. However, other countries, especially Egypt and Zimbabwe in Africa, endorse Security Values more than all Asian countries. Both Vietnam and Japan also show a decent preference for Self-Expression over Security Values. Perhaps my university Sociology professors were being influenced by inaccurate stereotypes or not using the best examples.
Based on their answers to the World Values Survey and their positions on the above map, the average Australian is more likely to be happy, accept homosexuality, sign a petition and trust others than the average Japanese person or individual from the USA. Furthermore, the average American or Japanese person is more likely to endorse these four characteristics than the average South Korean, who is more likely than the average Egyptian. However, the average individual from these countries is less likely to endorse Self-Expression Values than the average Swede or Norwegian. These countries are the top two in the world, just ahead of Iceland, Denmark and New Zealand.
Which Areas of Life are Most Important?
As a dual citizen of Australia and the USA, I will include each country’s results on the following questions to the countries that most and least endorsed each item as very important. I doubt that many people will find these results as interesting as I do, but here are six areas of life that people are asked about in terms of how important it is to them:
1. How important is your family in your life?
The country with the highest percentage of people who endorse family as very important: Egypt = 99.7%
USA = 91.0%
Australia = 90.2%
The country with the lowest percentage of respondents who endorse family as very important: Nicaragua = 77.8%
2. How important are friends in your life?
The country with the highest percentage of people who endorse friends as very important: Serbia = 62.6%
Australia = 52.4%
USA = 50.7%
The country with the lowest percentage of respondents who endorse friends as very important: Myanmar = 11.8%
3. How important is leisure time in your life?
The country with the highest percentage of people who endorse leisure time as very important: Nigeria = 67.5%
Australia = 42.8%
USA = 39.5%
The country with the lowest percentage of respondents who endorse leisure time as very important: Vietnam = 12.8%
4. How important is politics in your life?
The country with the highest percentage of people who endorse politics as very important: Nigeria = 34.8%
USA = 14.9%
Australia = 10.3%
The country with the lowest percentage of respondents who endorse politics as very important: Serbia = 4.4%
5. How important is work in your life?
The country with the highest percentage of people who endorse work as very important: Indonesia = 92.9%
USA = 39.4%
Australia = 33.1%
The country with the lowest percentage of respondents who endorse work as very important: New Zealand = 29.1%
6. How important is religion in your life?
The country with the highest percentage of people who endorse religion as very important: Indonesia = 98.1%
USA = 37.1%
Australia = 13.8%
The country with the lowest percentage of respondents who endorse religion as very important: China = 3.3%
Neither Australia nor the USA is the highest or lowest country regarding endorsing any of the six categories as very important in their life. It’s interesting and nice to see that family, friends and leisure time are all endorsed as very important in life to a higher degree in both the USA and Australia than work, religion and politics. I wonder if everyone lives in line with what values they say are most important to them.
Dr Damon Ashworth