Global Council for Tolerance and Peace

Cultural Change, Slow and Fast: The Distinctive Trajectory of Norms Governing Gender Equality and Sexual Orientation

By Ronald F. Inglehart, Eduard Ponarin, Ronald C. Inglehart – June 2017


This article builds on research demonstrating that high levels of economic and physical security are conducive to a shift from materialist to postmaterialist values—and that this shift tends to make people more favorable to important social changes. This article updates this research, demonstrating that: (1) These value changes occur with exceptionally large time lags between the onset of the conditions conducive to them, and the societal changes they produce—as previous work implies but does not demonstrate. The evidence suggests that there was a time lag of forty to fifty years between when Western societies first attained high levels of economic and physical security after World War II, and related societal changes such as legalization of same-sex marriage. (2) A distinctive set of “individual-choice norms,” dealing with acceptance of gender equality, divorce, abortion, and homosexuality, is moving on a different trajectory from other cultural changes. These norms are closely linked with human fertility rates and require severe self-repression. (3) Although basic values normally change at the pace of intergenerational population replacement, the shift from pro-fertility norms to individual-choice norms is now moving much faster, having reached a tipping point where conformist pressures have reversed polarity and are now accelerating changes they once resisted. We test these claims against data from eighty countries containing most of the world’s population, surveyed from 1981 to 2014.

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