Would you require more social capital and cultural capital to succeed in an individualist country? Or less?
Do you think the individualist system or the collectivist system is more conducive to social cohesion?
There is a debate among theorists about whether individualism poses a threat to a society’s cohesion and communal association or whether it aids the development of social solidarity and cooperation.
Some argue that the growth of individuality, autonomy, and self-sufficiency is essential for a healthy society, while others argue that excessive individualism undermines social ties and leads to a breakdown of community.
This study by Anu Realo and Jüri Allik suggests the opposite is true.
Let’s take a look.
Individualism-Collectivism & Social Capital
Social capital and individualism-collectivism (IC) are two important constructs that have been studied extensively in the social sciences.
As we outlined in a previous post, social capital refers to the networks, norms, and trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation among individuals and groups.
We’ve also extensively discussed IC – the degree to which people prioritize their own goals and interests versus those of the group.
Despite the seemingly contradictory nature of individualism and social ties, research on the relationship between social capital and IC suggests that there is a positive association between the two constructs.
Individualism & Trust
Countries with higher levels of social capital are more individualistic, which suggests that independence and freedom to pursue one’s personal goals are of value to social capital.
This is because social capital is based on trust, and trust is more likely to form in societies that value individual autonomy and self-determination.
Those societies in which trust is limited to only nuclear family or kinship have lower levels of social capital.
Social capital is not evenly distributed within societies and can vary depending on the size of social networks and the degree of trust within them.
Social Capital Not at Odds with Individualism
To put it simply, social capital and individualism are not necessarily at odds.
Instead, promoting social capital through policies that strengthen relationships and trust – such as investments in education, infrastructure, and community development – can help to build stronger communities, even in societies that value individual autonomy.