Hofstede and the Masculinity Index

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Douglas MacKevett

Douglas MacKevett ist Head of the MScBA Online Business and Marketing Major in English und Dozent für Wirtschaftsenglisch am Institut für Kommunikation und Marketing IKM.

In intercultural studies, Hofstede’s Indexes of Culture provide an empirical way to compare countries. Based on the Power-Distance Index, for example, all major airlines around the world have created guidelines to overcome deference to authority: In a cockpit, where the lives of passengers and crew are potentially at stake, bowing and scraping is inappropriate behavior. You have to be able to criticize the captain regardless of their social standing. The implementation of low-context communication and low power-distance is now industry standard and has radically reduced the incidence of human-caused accidents since the late 1990s.

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The Masculinity Index, however, is consistently misunderstood, most often as the “Macho” index. So, according to this interpretation, an Arab culture like the UAE should score very high (even “off the charts”, as I recently heard), while “emancipated” cultures like the USA (women drive, vote, wear what they want) should score relatively low. Looking at the country comparison, we find the opposite is true: Masculinity Index USA 62, UAE 52. What’s going on?

Hofstede’s index attempts to capture the prevalence in a culture for “masculine” ideals such as being the best and showing it; “feminine” ideals, on the other hand, are doing what you love and sharing it. How far these map onto the gender roles of the men and women in the country is irrelevant.

So, for example, this index does a great job of explaining the Anglo and Germanic clusters’ love of work and hoarding wealth: Being busy is highly valued, bank “secrecy” is iconically Swiss, having too much free time is viewed with suspicion, taxation should be as low as possible. In the UAE, landing firmly in the middle of the index, you find other behaviors: Celebration of leisure time and sharing wealth, for example. High-wealth Americans such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet famously do not live a highly glamorous lifestyle; when high-wealth Arabs visit Geneva, in contrast, the shops stay open very late, accommodating the Arab preference for shopping late on a Thursday or Friday night.

On a side note, the highly “masculine” culture of Dubai is also highly “feminine”: Shops display a dizzying array of gold and jewels, offer free samples of perfumes, and even arrange pink taxis with women drivers for their customers. Unlike the more androgynous Anglo and Germanic clusters, both ends of the gender spectrum are highly celebrated.


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