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Does COVID-19 propel value change: A comparison of Germany and the United Kingdom?

On November 6 Klaus Boehnke (PhD, professor, Jacobs University Bremen, Germany, Deputy Director, Center for Socio-Cultural Research, HSE) took part in the "Culture matters" research seminar with the report "Does COVID-19 propel value change: A comparison of Germany and the United Kingdom?".

Under normal circumstances, people’s value orientations remain relatively stable across adulthood. Yet, the massive social disruptions that suddenly kicked in with the COVID-19 pandemic may cause a sudden value shift among people who are anxious of the disease. The present study tests two competing hypotheses about the direction of such a value shift along the Schwartz value circumflex. On the one hand, high anxiety might cause a protective value shift towards conservation values, coinciding with a nativist reaction in civic orientations against immigration and international cooperation. On the other hand, the group-boundary transgressing nature of the pandemic may strengthen people’s sense of human solidarity and their appreciation of universal freedoms. This possibility suggests an emancipatory value shift towards self-transcendence values, together with a cosmopolitan reaction in civic orientations in support of immigration and international cooperation. Using representative survey data from Germany (N=2,009) and the UK (N=2,033), we found that high disease anxiety in the UK brought indeed a remarkable value shift into the protective direction and a nativist reaction, whereas considerably lower disease anxiety in Germany kept this tendency at bay. Implications of these findings for theorizing value change and for political communication during societal crisis were discussed.