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Asian values and democracy - evidence from the World Values Survey

posted on 06.03.2017, 06:04 by Gu, Man Li
This thesis is a collection of four empirical studies that examine cross-cultural differences in social values using recent data from the World Values Survey (WVS). The WVS is a global research project which collects people’s opinion over a wide range of subjects from politics to economics to religion. Given the breadth and depth of the WVS, a comparative approach is taken in each empirical chapter to study how adherence to traditional values rooted in Islam or Confucian ideology interacts with certain liberal, Western values. The analyses are underpinned by two competing theories concerning value change. Classic modernization theory suggests that economic development has the power to transform traditional values and attitudes, whereas culturalist theory maintains that the belief system of a society is largely culture-dependent, and less susceptible to the forces of modernization. Drawing upon a sample of over 20, 000 individuals from both Western and Asian countries for which recent survey data are available, I find empirical evidence that supports the culturalist argument. Results from latent class analysis and multilevel modeling in Study 1 suggest that despite explicit widespread support for democracy, Muslim publics have a notion of democracy that is very different from the standard liberal definition in the West. The contrast is also apparent in their attitudes towards sexuality and morality issues, with many Muslims being far more conservative than the Christians from the West, as Study 2 concludes. The gap persists even after differences in the level of social development are controlled for. Muslims who believe in separating religion and state do not wholeheartedly embrace civil values that champion individual freedom of choice, such as the rights to divorce or to terminate a pregnancy. That shows that this aspect of liberal democratic thinking has yet to emerge in the Islamic culture. Turning to a group of East Asian countries, there is again a unique pattern from the survey data that suggests the enduring influence of culture. Study 3 shows that pro-democracy East Asians from modern societies such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan are no different from their Western counterparts in recognizing the importance of interpersonal trust, but they remain strong adherents of traditional family and social values such as hard work and thrift. Study 4 suggests that likewise, many Chinese, while being receptive to the idea of democracy, continue to uphold the teachings of the ancient sage Confucius on interpersonal relations.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Eduard Bomhoff

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Business and Economics (Monash University Malaysia)


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Business and Economics