Are Indians more materialistic than the West

German conditions. A social studies

Hans-Peter Müller

Hans-Peter Müller, born in Erfurt (Thuringia) in 1951, has been Professor of Sociology at the Humboldt University in Berlin since 1992. After studying economics and social sciences at the University of Augsburg (1972-1977), worked at the Universities of Augsburg, Heidelberg, the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich and the University of Heidelberg. Doctorate in 1982 and habilitation in 1989 at the University of Heidelberg. 1986-1987 he was a John F. Kennedy Fellow at Harvard University and 1997-1999 Max Weber Visiting Professor at New York University. The main focus is on classical and contemporary social theory, social structure and social inequality, political sociology and cultural sociology. Selected publications: Max Weber. An introduction to his work. Cologne / Weimar / Vienna: Böhlau Verlag 2007; with R. Hettlage (ed.), The European Society. Constance: UKV 2006; with J. Mackert (ed.), Moderne (Staats) Bürgerschaft 2007; with A. Harrington and B. I. Marschall (ed.), Encyclopedia of Social Theory. London / New York: Routledge 2006; Social structure and lifestyles. Frankfurt / M .: Suhrkamp 1992 (2nd edition 1993).

A radical change in values ​​has taken place in developed liberal societies. Instead of wealth and possessions, self-realization and communication are in the foreground. The change in values ​​can also explain the observed individualization and the pluralization of social milieus and lifestyles.

Developed liberal societies have three common development trends: a change in socially dominant values, the fading of class and class in favor of milieus and the transition from collectively shaped ways of life to individually chosen lifestyles. Let us now look at the first of the three trends with regard to the time after the Second World War for the Federal Republic of Germany.

Material values ​​lose, post-material values ​​gain in importance

The 1950s and 1960s were in the western world through an unprecedented increase in prosperity (called "economic miracle" in the old Federal Republic of Germany), through the expansion of education, through a shortening of working hours and the expansion of leisure time, through a high level of social security and a liberalization of the Values ​​marked.

In the 1970s, the American sociologist Ronald Inglehart (1989) identified a radical change in values ​​in the western world from materialistic values ​​(wealth and property) to post-materialistic values ​​(self-realization and communication). His considerations were based on two central assumptions: 1. People desire that which is relatively scarce in their environment (the deficiency hypothesis). In the acute shortage immediately after the Second World War, he assumed, the older generation first had to satisfy material needs - as a result, they were supporters of materialistic values; but even their children - born into the newly won prosperity - would, on the other hand, increasingly follow post-material values ​​of self-realization. 2. The basic values ​​of a person are shaped in their young years, in the "formative period" and remain stable over the entire life cycle (the socialization hypothesis). Long-term values ​​formed at an early stage serve as a guideline and orientation for a person's entire lifestyle. Once a materialist, always a materialist; once a post materialist, always a post materialist.

In order to empirically prove the change in values, the researchers asked four questions about the importance of objectives:
  • Maintaining law and order in this country;
  • More influence of the citizens on the decision of the government;
  • Fight against rising prices;
  • Protection of the right to freedom of expression.
Goals 1 and 3 are considered "materialistic", goals 2 and 4 as "post-materialistic" values. If the respondents named two materialistic goals, they were classified as "materialists", if they named two post-materialistic goals, they were classified as "post-materialists". Anyone who named a materialistic and a post-materialistic goal was assigned a "mixed type".

According to Inglehart's theory, the proportion of materialists in the population must decrease in the line of succession, while the proportion of post-materialists increases over time. In fact, the proportion of materialists in West Germany fell between the 1970s and the early 1990s (to less than 20% of the population in 1989) while the proportion of post-materialists had risen to 25% in 1988.

With this change in values, the individualization observed during this time and the pluralization of social milieus and lifestyles can also be explained to a certain extent. People no longer arranged their lives according to traditional collective lifestyles that they had mostly adopted from their parents. Rather, it became a question of the individual choice or creation of one's own lifestyle, which educational path one takes, which career choice one makes, whether and if so, when one enters into a steady relationship, whether one gets married or not, whether one has children or not one is socially and politically involved or not.

No sooner had the values ​​of self-realization found their way into society than was criticism, especially from conservative circles and the mass media, of the supposedly rampant "egoism" and "decline in values". The fact that self-realization does not necessarily have to lead to egoism or even a decline in values ​​is proven by the "new social movements" that experienced a climax in the 1970s. Political and social engagement continued to exist, but in the younger generation this engagement was not a question of a sense of duty, but of voluntary insight into the necessity of political protest. For at least a while, especially among the young educated classes, who flocked to the universities in increasing numbers, self-realization and socio-political engagement went hand in hand.

The shift in values ​​slowed down and changed direction in the 1990s

In the course of the 1990s, however, an increasing stagnation of the change in values ​​could be observed in Germany. The proportion of the mixed type rose from 50% to over 60%. This development, which did not correspond to Inglehart's prognosis at all, makes it clear that the change in values ​​has several dimensions: The mandatory values ​​are dwindling in favor of values ​​of hedonistic-materialistic and idealistic self-development. Self-actualization thus exists in a materialistic and a post-materialistic version. Against this background, according to Helmut Klages (2001), five types of values ​​can be identified:
  • The conventionalists (high mandatory and acceptance values ​​with low self-development values): This is a numerically shrinking group of predominantly older people (1997: 18% of the total population) who have never been affected by the change in values. A love of order and conformity make them opposed to rapid modernization.
  • The resigned with no perspective (all three values ​​low): This type (1997: 16% of the total population) is characterized by an experience of failure resulting from a lack of success in life. Loss of orientation and the search for niches for inconspicuous survival with resentment-laden rejection of all risky, self-reliant challenges characterize this "without me" attitude.
  • The active realists (all three value dimensions highly pronounced): This largest group (1997: 36% of the total population) reacts to all challenges posed by social change in an active, pragmatic and success-oriented manner. This high level of rational personal responsibility is flanked by an emphatic striving for advancement, which tries to adhere to calculable standards and career ladders even in a more flexible society.
  • The hedonistic materialists (hedonistic-materialistic self-development high, the other two values ​​low): This group (1997: 14% of the total population) is characterized by high mobility and adaptability. In their active search for professional and personal opportunities and chances, they let themselves be guided by the pleasure and success principle and playfully glide from one area to another if it promises better exploitation of opportunities.
  • The non-conformist idealists (idealistic self-development high, the other two values ​​low): Oriented towards individual emancipation and social equality, this group (1997: 16% of the total population) affirms modernization and reforms from their critical awareness, but is through the way in which such projects are implemented by politics and business, precisely because they are not expedient according to their ideals, is regularly frustrated. What then remains is often wintering in professional niches such as editorial offices or schools and universities as places of retreat for their ideals.
This typology not only gives a differentiated picture of values ​​and their distribution in Germany, it can also be used to interpret the stagnation of the change in values ​​in the 1990s and the re-growth of materialistic orientations as well as the increase in mixed values. Three developments have put a heavy strain on public budgets in Germany: globalization, Europeanization and German reunification. 16.5 million new citizens had to be integrated, and due to the collapse of East German industry and high unemployment, the transfer payments to the new federal states skyrocketed, which are to expire in a degressive manner by 2019. In addition, the higher world market competition also led to a noticeable loss of prosperity in West Germany after the exceptional boom brought about by the unification subsided. The gradual return of the scarcity caused a "change in values" (Hradil 2006: 275), which in view of the ongoing financial and economic crisis is unlikely to reverse anytime soon. Nevertheless, the largest group of "active realists" shows that value syntheses of a new kind are possible and that once established self-realization values ​​do not simply disappear again.