Is It Worth the Risk?: Different Cultural Takes on Risk Perception

Are some cultures greater risk-takers than others?

This study dove in to find out.

Analyzing the data of respondents from Germany, Poland, the US, and China, the study measured respondents’ risk preference for pricing financial options.

These are their findings.


Studies have shown a correlation between a culture’s position on the individualism-collectivism scale and its risk preference.

Called the Cushion Hypothesis (Weber & Hsee, 1998), the theory suggests that those from collectivist cultures are more likely to take financial risks.


Due to the perceived support from their collectivist culture and, thus, the reduced negative consequences such a risk might have on the individual.

While this study did arrive at the same conclusion – that the collectivist society of China was less risk-averse than its American counterpart – it did identify a more specific reason for it.


The majority of respondents in all four cultures were identified as risk-averse (i.e. they were willing to pay more for options they saw as “less risky”).

When you look at a risk-return conceptualization, it is natural that most people, no matter what culture, would perceive risk this way.

When risk preference was evaluated in the traditional expected-utility framework, Chinese respondents were considerably less risk-averse in pricing than Americans.

But what this study found was that the difference in risk preference may not be due to a cultural attitude toward perceived risk; instead, it appears largely due to the perception of the financial options’ risk itself.

Chinese participants simply did not find the options as risky as their counterparts.


The study states:

“Chinese respondents were closest to risk neutrality in their pricing of the financial options and judged the risk of these options to be the lowest, but were not significantly less perceived-risk averse.

“American and Germans offered the lowest prices and also perceived the risk of the options to be highest, but were not significantly more perceived-risk averse.”

One might practically apply this knowledge to commerce and negotiation when working across these particular cultures, affording both negotiators joint gains.

The study concludes that while cultures do vary on a collectivism-individualism continuum which undoubtedly impacts perceived risk, other cultural factors in risky decision-making – locus of control, differences in achievement motivation, etc. – may also come into play in risk preference.

Further studies into the subject might provide more insight.

Insightful Cross-Cultural Analogies: How Hofstede’s Power Distance & Uncertainty Avoidance Aid Understanding

Power distance. Uncertainty avoidance.

We’ve discussed these two dimensions at length in previous posts.

Not only are they stand-alone aspects that aid cross-cultural understanding, but social psychologist, Geert Hofstede, has applied these two dimensions to create cultural analogies that help simplify foreign workplace environments.

Power Distance and Uncertainty Avoidance Review

These two dimensions relate to workplace behaviors.

Power distance is the degree to which cultures accept and expect the unequal distribution of power amongst members of organizations and institutions.

For instance, those employees in cultures of high power distance will not directly confront a superior; those employees and superiors in cultures of low power distance rely on communication and the consultation of each other, which de-emphasizes the hierarchical nature of status.

Uncertainty avoidance is the measure of acceptance and expectation for unpredictability and chaos in society.

Those cultures with high levels of uncertainty avoidance have a low tolerance for unpredictability and ambiguity, resulting in rule-oriented, law-abiding societies.

Those cultures with low levels of uncertainty avoidance have a high tolerance for the same, resulting in societies willing to take more risks, tolerate a wider variety of opinions, and not follow rules so strictly.

The Analogies

Arranging these two dimensions on the axes of a matrix, Hofstede produced a set of helpful analogies to better understand the work cultures of the United Kingdom, China, Germany, and France.


With its low uncertainty avoidance and low power distance, a typical English company is like a village market, in that it combines risk-taking with flat hierarchies, resulting in the classic entrepreneurial spirit.

Germany also shares the flat workplace hierarchies (low power distance) with the British; however, German culture has a high uncertainty avoidance, making typical German companies efficient and inflexible, more like a “well-oiled machine” or a clock. Rules are strictly followed, with decentralized decision-making and each equally important wheel working together.

The typical French company is described as a “royal court” or “pyramid of people.” The culture is one of high power distance, where everyone knows their place and decision-making is centralized. They also share high uncertainty avoidance with the Germans, meaning rules are strictly followed, resulting in a complex network of relationships across the levels of hierarchy. Power and authority are highly valued.

The best analogy for a Chinese company is that of a family with a head patriarch. Like France, China values high power distance and, like England, low uncertainty avoidance. This means that, despite having a typical hierarchical society that values company loyalty, risks and rule-bending are embraced, which has helped to position China as an economic superpower.

Although I can’t stress enough that analogies are never perfect and nothing is one-size-fits-all, they do allow managers to form mental models, aiding understanding in the workplace environments of foreign countries.