What do you value in life?
If you ask anybody this question, there’s surprising similarity in what people say. You can generally put people’s values into four broad groups:
- Change & autonomy values, such as creativity and freedom,are linked to tolerance and comfort with difference. (Openness-to-change values)
- Care & empathy values are all about concern for others and the environment, equality and tolerance. (Self-transcendence, or intrinsic values)
- Stability & security values, such as social order and respect for tradition, are associated with maintenance of the status quo and discomfort with other groups. (Conservation values)
- Power & competition values are linked to prejudice, discrimination, materialism and concern about status, self and money. (Self-enhancement, or extrinsic values)
We all hold all of these values, but to different degrees. These four groups work in opposition to each other as in the diagram below. Care/empathy values are opposite power/competition, and change/autonomy values oppose stability/security values. This means we’re unlikely to value one set highly if we value the other set highly. (Read more about how this works here!)
We all hold all of these values! (Just checking you’re paying attention). I might value change/autonomy, but I also value stability/security, I’m just likely to hold one set higher than the opposing set. The importance I place on my values can change moment to moment. Being in a situation where I am framed as a consumer, for instance, I am more likely to behave more materialistically and temporarily value power/competition more.
We carried out some research to look out how values predict people’s attitudes towards discrimination in Europe. We kind of knew what to expect. We looked at lots of questions that had been asked to large, representative samples from 25 European countries (about 50,000 people altogether) and connected these to the values people held.
So, what did we find?
1. If you live in a country that values power/competition and stability/security relatively highly, you are more likely to experience discrimination….
… based on gender, ability, sexual orientation, age, gender identity, or ethnic origin.
2. And you’re also less likely to *witness* discrimination.
Wait, what? If more people experience discrimination, shouldn’t more people see discrimination happening too? It seems that, whilst the chances of experiencing discrimination is lower in countries that score highly on care/empathy and change/autonomy values, people in these countries appear to be more aware of discrimination and so report having seen more occurrences of it. This is important, because whether or not incidents are acknowledged as discriminatory will impact whether they are reported and responded to. And sure enough, our results show that people were also less likely to report discrimination to an authority the higher their country scored on power/competition values.
3. The more you value power/competition or stability/security, the less likely you are to agree that ‘gays and lesbians should be free to live life as they wish.’
Whereas change/autonomy and care/empathy values are associated with positive attitudes towards gay rights.
4. Care/empathy and change/autonomy values are linked with agreeing that women have equal rights to jobs
Which there really shouldn’t be any disagreement about. Also, the more I value care/empathy and change/autonomy, the less likely I am to agree that ‘a woman should be prepared to cut down on her paid work for the sake of her family’.
5. Power/competition and stability/security values are linked to the belief that unemployed people ‘just don’t try’
Care/empathy values and self-direction (change/autonomy) values, on the other hand, were linked with a lower likelihood of agreeing with this.
6. People who value care/empathy and change/autonomy more highly are more positive about immigration
They’re more likely to agree that immigrants enrich a society’s culture and less likely to agree that their country should put a cap on immigration. They’re also more inclined to believe that immigrants deserve the same rights and benefits as everyone else.
7. Power/competition and stability/security values are linked with prejudice towards Roma people
People who hold these values relatively highly are less likely to agree that society benefits from the integration of the Roma, and less likely to say they’d be happy for their own children to play with Roma children.
8. Care/empathy values are the only ones not ageist in some way…
Care/empathy, change/autonomy and power/security values are associated with positive attitudes towards people under 30. Power/competition and change/autonomy values are associated with ageism towards older generations, whereas stability/security values are associated with ageism towards younger generations.
9. However people who valued care/empathy were less comfortable with the idea of someone under 30 in an elected position of power.
The chink in care/empathy values’ armour! People who value care/empathy more highly are more likely to discriminate against a young person in power. This was a pretty weird finding, but we think it might be because ‘wisdom’ (a care/empathy value) is associated with older age. People with relatively high power/competition values were comfortable with the idea of someone under 30 in power, but were more likely to have negative attitudes towards anyone other than white, heterosexual, able-bodied, cis-gendered men in these positions. In other words, they were more likely to express discomfort at the idea of a woman, someone of a different ethnicity, someone with a disability, a transgender person, or a gay person in a position of power.
10. We should all move to Finland…
There was interesting variation between countries, and Finland came top of the care/empathy values league table.
Care/empathy (green) and power/competition (red) in Europe:
But… all countries in Europe valued care/empathy over power/competition, so let’s not pack our bags just yet. Maybe we could just say it gives us all something to work towards…?
So the results are, for the most part, unsurprising.
- Power/competition values are associated with a hierarchical worldview in which some people are just better than others. It’s a view held by white, able-bodied, heterosexual men more than any other group. These values are associated with a lack of concern about inequality and a whole host of prejudiced views. They’re also associated with a desire for money and superiority, with violence, and with over-consumption.
- Care/empathy values, on the other side, are associated with egalitarian views and positive attitudes towards other groups.
What was possibly more surprising was the strength of the relationship, in most cases, between stability/security and change/autonomy values and discriminatory attitudes. This is just because there is less existing research about these relationships, but we could have probably guessed it.
But so what?
Well, these values can be encouraged (in anyone) and we have a pretty good idea of what brings them to the fore.
- Language or experiences related to a particular value encourages us to think and act in ways associated with it. When we are framed as ‘consumers’ rather than ‘citizens’, for example, our power/competition values are encouraged and we become more materialistic and selfish.
- Values suppress their opposites. When we are framed as consumers our power/competition values suppress our care/empathy values, and we become less likely to want to volunteer for a good cause, or to conserve water in a management game.
This means that the way issues are framed can have a serious impact on how we respond. Framing immigration as good for the economy, then, could actually backfire and increase prejudice rather than decrease it.
Download the full report – which also discusses the framing of equality in Europe.