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COVID-19, Existential Insecurity and Value Change in Japan

On March 4 Plamen Akaliyski (PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher, Keio University, Japan) took part in the "Culture matters" research seminar with the report "COVID-19, Existential Insecurity and Value Change in Japan".


Inglehart’s modernization theory links cultural values to the underlying subjective sense of existential security (‘scarcity hypothesis’). Values are also considered stable once individuals reach adulthood (‘socialization hypothesis’) but an acute existential crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic may challenge this assumption. The authors tested how the existential insecurity related to the pandemic relates to emancipative and secular values in four different analyses. First, the authors tested whether values have changes during the pandemic compared to five months earlier using representative surveys for the population of Japan from WVS wave 7 (N = 1,353) and VIC survey (N = 3,000). Second, the authors tested whether prefectures more severely affected by the pandemic experienced stronger value change. Third, the authors assessed if individuals objectively affected by the pandemic differ in their values from the rest of the population. Lastly, the authors examined if individuals subjectively experiencing adversity also emphasize values related to existential insecurity more strongly. At all levels of analysis – national, regional, and individual (objectively and subjectively measured) – existential insecurity was associated with weaker emancipative and secular values, that is, stronger traditional, intolerant, and religious values. These findings support the scarcity hypothesis but disprove the socialization hypothesis as the authors provided evidence that values can change even within a negligibly short time period.