A comparison of 43 nations in the early 1990's

Ruut Veenhoven
Published in: Social Indicators Research, 1999 vol. 48, pp 157-186

In the process of modernization, western societies became more individualistic. Ever since there have been claims that this development will create an unlivable society. Humans would need a Gemeinschaft and would wither in Gesellschaft. This classic idea lives in present day 'communitarism' and inspires pleas for the strengthening of moral bonds and preserving the welfare state.
This paper reports an empirical test of the claim that quality-of-life is poor in individualized society. It compares 43 nations in the early 1990's. Individualization is measured by three aspects: 1) moral appreciation of individualism, 2) opportunity to choose, and 3) capability to choose. Next overall individualization is measured by means of an expert-estimate. Quality-of-life in nations is measured by the citizen's subjective appreciation of life as assessed in representative surveys.
The data show a clear positive relationship, the more individualized the nation, the more citizens enjoy their life. This suggests that the benefits of individualization are greater than its costs.
Inspection of the scattergrams shows a linear relationship. There is no pattern of diminishing returns. This indicates that individualization has not yet passed its optimum. The relationship appears to be contingent to level of education and economic prosperity. Positive correlations appear only among the most knowledgeable and prosperous nations. This suggests that the misgivings about individualization apply more to the past than to the future.

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