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An Academic Critique of Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory Essay (Critical Writing)

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Hofstede, G, 1983, “National cultures in four dimensions: A research-based theory of cultural differences among nations”, International Studies of Management & Organization, Vol. 13, No. 1-2, pp. 46-74.

Hofstede (1983) recruited a sample size of 50 nations to characterise their cultural aspects applying the Value Survey Module (VSM). The model permits researchers to summarise the culture of any nation based on common dimensions.

To ensure that a comparison was achieved, study participants could be matched by gender, age, educational levels, and the number of respondents on top management levels. This essay adopts the following framework to critique the Hofstede’s four dimensions on characterising national cultures: First, the essay will outline the model applied by Hofstede to identify cultures among countries.

Second, the essay examines the appropriateness of terming culture as national. Thirdly, the essay critiques the assumptions adopted by Hofstede in the identification of national cultures. After discussing its remaining value and limitation of some other scholars’’ critiques, the essay will finally draw a conclusion.

Hofstede (1983) applied the model that he had introduced in 1980, albeit with a relatively smaller sample size. It has been shown that most of his latter works are based on the first model he described (Hofstede and Bond, 1988; Hofstede et al., 1990; Hofstede, 2001; Hofstede and Hofstede, 2005).

Despite this, the model has been widely argued towards its methodology, “conceptualisation and generalisation” (Yeh, 1988), Hofstede has not made attempts to revise it. The 1983 report summarised data from about 116,000 questionnaires which were filled by industrial workers in 50 countries. Each country was divided into three regions and data were collected at two points in time.

Data were collected about employees’ earnings, security, and cooperation. The analysis of the data was comparing individual citizens, occupations, sex, and age groups across the 50 countries that were being investigated. An answer to each question in the questionnaires carried one score.

The data that bank utilised had a total of 67 countries, but merely 40 countries were used at the start since the data were incomplete for the other 27 countries. The reduction o the number of countries led to the adoption of 50 respondents per nation. At a subsequent stage, the number of countries was increased to 50 due to the availability of occupational data.

Questionnaires adopted by the study were either based on theoretical importance or statistical relationships (Hofstede, 1983; McSweeney, 2002). The four dimensions that were recognised were masculinity versus femininity, uncertainty avoidance, power distance, and individualism versus collectivism. Power distance was defined as a result of inequalities among individuals in the society.

The inequalities could be based on biological and social differences. Uncertainty avoidance was perceived as being unable to predict about tomorrow (Hofstede, 1983). Individualism pointed to the problems associated with interactions among individuals in different social groups.

The social groups could be loosely or tightly integrated (Hofstede, 1983). The chances of members expressing higher levels of individualism than individuals in loosely integrated groups increased as a group becoming more integrated. Masculinity was recognised as the problem encountered when dividing mankind into males and females.

The study attempted to decipher the factors that defined man as an independent person who could make his own decisions in the society. An index was used to represent the scores of the sampled countries on the four dimensions, which enabled the investigator to simply rank the countries based on the dimensional scores (Hofstede, 1983).

It was demonstrated that about three factors contributed to the 49% of the variance observed in the responses to the 32 questionnaires in the initial 40 countries. One parameter linked high power distance with low individualism, another parameter linked uncertainty avoidance with masculinity. The author asserted that a negative correlation was established between power distance and individualism. (Hofstede, 1983).

The study presented fruitful results on describing cultures among different countries. The study used the Hermes data that were collected and analysed twice, 1968 and 1972. The study, therefore, found it legitimate to describe cultural patterns of countries across the world utilising the Hermes data on the four dimensions. Pakistan was the sole country in the study which did not show an increase in individualism.

The author demonstrated that, in most countries, individualism was the first dimension to increase, and followed by an increase in wealth. However, there was some significant reduction in individualism in countries that were far apart from each other. Moreover, it was established that the power distance pattern was more complex. Most of the countries had workers who preferred a consultative manager (Hofstede, 1983).

On the one hand, countries which had low power distances had corresponding consultative manager attitudes. On the other hand, countries in which power distances were high the consultative manger approaches were minimal. This could be explained by the fact that employees in countries with high power distances could obey all instructions from their managers. Such managers could not value the contributions made by their juniors.

Workers in countries with greater power distances exhibited more fear of questioning their superiors. The power distance patterns across the countries were divergence rather than convergence. Additionally, the analysis of the masculinity-femininity dimension demonstrated that there was a trend toward the masculine side. It was learnt that masculine countries could become masculine with progress in time.

Likewise, countries that were feminine could become more feminine with progress in time (Hofstede, 1983). The observations led to the conclusion that the dimension had a divergent rather convergent pattern. Furthermore, the analysis of the data that were collected to determine uncertainty avoidance showed that only stress factor demonstrated significant trend among countries.

The type of stress assessed was feeling tense at work. The stress could be caused by seniors who could overcome employees to yield superior results. Most countries studied showed an increase in stress cases among employees (Hofstede, 1983). A significant number of countries showed that the stress trend was divergence rather than convergence.

Throughout the study, Hofstede adopts two definitions of national cultural sharedness. The first notion is based on the observation that all individuals in nation have the identical culture. Hofstede (1980) argues that cultures are heterogeneous among nations, and this could imply that citizens of a country do not have subcultures, but share a culture common to whole individuals (Huo & Randall, 1991).

However, this is a major shortcoming on the study. It can be rather misleading to assume that all individuals in a nation possess and share the same culture. Several countries are made up of many cultural groups (such as China which contains 56 ethnic groups sharing distinct lifestyle and culture).

The industries in which the workers filled the questionnaires could have a high level of cultural diversity. Cultural diversity is brought about by individuals from different cultures across the world interacting (McSweeney, 2002). The truth is that individuals of a nation may pursue different cultures and it could be misleading to assume that they share the same cultural practices.

The second notion the author adopts in defining culture is based on statistical average of individuals sharing cultures in nations. He terms this phenomenon a central tendency (Hofstede 1980). Aiming to defend his argument, the author claimed that it is not individuals were compared, but central tendencies (McSweeney 2002).

The central tendencies were contained in the answers provided to the questions in the questionnaires. It may be improper for a scientist to rely on statistical average tendencies to define national cultures. The sample sizes used for each country were considered to be too small to represent the whole population.

Therefore, the samples could lack representativeness to infer about the study populations. Limited sample sizes contribute to research bias and an increase in confounding errors in study findings.

The first assumption made by Hofstede is that organisational, occupational, and national cultures were assumed to be durable and independent. Hofstede hypothesises that workers within a certain industries in a nation have monopolistic and singular organisational culture. McSweeney (2002) claimed that it is acceptable of Hofstede to state that culture in organizations as monopolistic.

However, this contradicts findings from several studies which have recognized organisational culture as being multiple, emergent, and resisting (McSweeney, 2002). The statements by McSweeney (2002) are also supported by Huo and Randall (1991). The definition offered by Hofstede is not satisfactory.

He assumes that occupational cultures are permanently imprinted in organisations due to socialization patterns. The deterministic definition of cultures is inadequate. It could imply that individuals of every social organisation study the same courses in school.

It could also imply that course contents across the world are the same yet it is known that course contents even in a country could be different because learning institutions have the freedom to design courses.

The other problem with the deterministic perception of occupational cultures is that pre-occupation interactions only take place in learning institutions yet it is known that interactions occur in many other social places like sporting centres, religious institutions, and homes.

McSweeney (2002) believed that organisational and occupational factors could be used to define national cultures. However, national cultures cannot only be placed in the context of institutional and occupational cultures. Hofstede erred by basing his perception about national cultures on organisational and occupational settings.

The second assumption made by Hofstede is that national culture seems to cause questionnaire response. The responses offered by respondents in the study produced reaction differences based on national location. Hofstede did not apply proper questionnaire designs that could ensure proper stratification of the questionnaires.

Questionnaires that are not well stratified often culminate in response differences (Fang, 2003; Williamson, 2002). To such problems, he could have improved defining the variable component by including questions about race, religion, and first tongue.

Meanwhile, Hofstede assumes that analysis of differences in responses in questionnaires could be used to identify national culture. McSweeney (2002) argues that it could be incorrect for an individual to form conclusions about a culture based on average of individual responses.

Forming such conclusions leads to wrong study findings yet the entire world rely on scientific findings to implement strategies aimed to improve human life. Other cultural-level dimensions have produced better results to characterise national culture than the parameters used by Hofstede (McSweeney, 2002).

The other assumption made by Hofstede is that national culture is not specific about situations. He claims that data from an organisation cannot unravel the characteristics of the entire national cultures (Huo & Randall, 1991; McSweeney, 2002).

The Hofstede’s study shows the data used from industrial locations cross the countries were situation specific. It has been shown that larger power distances in organisations do not frequently correlate with larger power distances in families.

Power distances could be the distance between, for example, father and mother. In families with great larger power distances, the father usually has the power to decide while the wife is expected to obey what is said by the head of the family.

On the other, families with least power distances involve both the father and mother participating in most of the family decisions. Therefore, it is incorrect for the author to assume that organisational culture is not influenced by situations.

Hofstede’s study could also be criticized on the premises of the study methodology and time frame. Studies of national cultures are usually quite involving and they should adopt complex design studies that involve any statistical analyses (Fang, 2003). The study could have used more data collection methods. Data collected from different methods could be compared to ascertain their statistical significance.

Study findings from such findings could be used to infer about the sample population. Hofstede (1983) agrees that the study was limited in time. Global trends require more than the four years used for the study in order to be characterised. If the study was conducted over a longer period of time, then it could have provided more detailed and convincing findings as a result of comparing trends over years.

The study findings presented in the study could have changed because, as Hofstede admits, there was a general trend toward high rates of work-related stress, decreased longer-term power distance, and increased individualism.

However, the general trend in the masculinity and femininity component was found to vary upon countries. A time frame of, for example, 15 years, could have provided a better analysis of the four cultural components.

It is admitted that the Hofstede’s study has various practical applications across the world. Although nations are not the ideal components for assessing cultures, the study author maintains that they are the best available options (Hofstede, 1983). Therefore, other studies have been conducted based on nations as the units of study.

The study also puts forward the importance of using company subsidiaries to determine cultural aspects of countries across the world. The author utilised the data from the different industrial locations to determine the variations between national cultures.

In fact, samples from populations could be used to provide information about such differences. While replying to McSweeney (2002) criticism on the use of four or five dimensions, Hofstede (2002) pointed out that more dimensions could be used to study cultural differences among nations.

However, the additional dimensions could be explicitly defined and validated through statistical correlations with conceptual frameworks that are already established.

This implies that Hofstede has much confidence in the dimensions he introduced to study cultural differences (Hofstede, 2002). Any scientist who has confidence in the tools he or she uses to conduct studies has higher chances of producing evidence-based findings than a scientist who does not have such confidence.

Although there has been a lot of criticism about the use four dimensions to assess cultural differences as proposed by Hofstede, he is the person who kicked off this theory and set the cornerstone of research on cross-cultural management. Although it could have vast shortcomings, other scientists have a platform on which they could make the theory better than it is today.

Peterson (2003, p. 128) states “Perhaps, the first edition of Culture’s Consequences did not create the field of comparative cross-cultural studies but it certainly has shaped the field’s basic themes, structure and controversies for over 20 years.

In addition, some other scholars’ critiques are lacking strong evidence. For example, Huo & Randall (1991) conducted a subculture study in China that lacks representativeness because it concentrated on provincial centres.

To sum up, this essay has critically debated Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory addressing other critics’ perspectives. It has outlined the model used by Hofstede to study cultural differences across nations. Then, it has examined the appropriateness of terming culture as national by analysing notions Hofstede assumed that all individuals in nation have the same culture and defining culture based on statistical average.

Next, it discuss assumptions adopted by Hofstede in the identification of national cultures, such as durability and independence of organisational, occupational, and national cultures; reflection of national cultures in questionnaires; obscurity about situations; as well as premises of the study methodology and time frame.

Despite that it has been criticised globally, it achieved various practical applications and set the cornerstone of research on cross-cultural management.


Fang, T. (2003) “A critique of Hofstede’s fifth national culture dimension”, International journal of cross cultural management, Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 347-368.

Hofstede, G. & Bond, M. H. (1988) “The Confucius connection: From cultural roots to economic growth”, Organizational dynamics, Vol. 16, No. 4, pp. 5-21.

Hofstede, G. & Hofstede, G. J., (2005) “Culture and Organizations. Intercultural Cooperation and its Importance for Survival, Software of the Mind”, New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Hofstede, G. (1983) “National cultures in four dimensions: A research-based theory of cultural differences among nations”, International Studies of Management & Organization, Vol. 13, No. 1-2, pp. 46-74.

Hofstede, G. (2002) “Dimensions do not exist: A reply to Brendan McSweeney”, Human relations, Vol. 55, No.11, pp. 1355-1361.

Hofstede, G., Neuijen, B., Ohayv, D. D. & Sanders, G., (1990) “Measuring organizational cultures: A qualitative and quantitative study across twenty cases”, Administrative science quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 286-316.

Hofstede, G. (2001) Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions and organizations across nations, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Huo, Y. P. & Randall, D. M., (1991) “Exploring subcultural differences in Hofstede’s value survey: the case of the Chinese”, Asia pacific journal of management, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 159-173.

McSweeney, B. (2002) “Hofstede’s model of national cultural differences and their consequences: A triumph of faith-a failure of analysis”, Human relations, Vol. 55, No. 1, pp. 89-118.

Peterson, V. S. (2003) A critical rewriting of global political economy: Integrating reproductive, productive and virtual economies, London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Williamson, D. (2002) “Forward from a critique of Hofstede’s model of national culture”, Human Relations, Vol. 55, No. 11, pp. 1373-1395.

Yeh, R. S. (1988) “On Hofstede’s treatment of Chinese and Japanese values” Asia Pacific Journal of Management, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 149-160.

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