Distinct Conceptions of Freedom in East Asia and the Protestant West Underpin Unique Pathways of Societal Development


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Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Western theories of modernization and cultural change suppose that socioeconomic development fosters support for freedom and equality in all societies. Cultural relativism and “Asian Values” thesis challenge such theories of universal human development by arguing that East Asian societies’ cultural legacies predispose them to a distinct pathway of cultural and societal development. This study uses nationally representative data from the World Values Survey and European Values Study to test whether East Asian and hystorically Protestant Western societies hold six domains of freedom aspirations as strongly as their level of socioeconomic development predicts. Protestant Western nations score consistently high on all freedom aspirations, while East Asia’s scores are higher than predicted for personal autonomy and secular identity but lower for the other four domains: individual freedom, gender equality, political liberalism, and ethnic tolerance. Multidimensional scaling reveals clearly distinguishable Protestant Western and East Asian cultural models. The dimensions these models are depicted by are associated with various salient societal outcomes. East Asia’s emphasis on personal autonomy and secular identity is compatible with good physical and mental health, low crime, competitive economy, and educational achievements. Protestant West’s support for other aspects of freedom is associated with high subjective well-being, demographic sustainability, human rights and rule of law, democratic institutions, and gender equality. Convergence in cultural and societal development may not be expected in the foreseeable future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-194
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date28 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes

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Publisher Copyright:
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  • cultural change
  • cultural differences
  • development
  • freedom
  • modernization


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