Could a More Individualistic World Also Be a More Altruistic One?

Abigail Marsh: The key to understanding the link between individualism and generosity may be that the World Giving Index measures generosity for strangers. Members of collectivist cultures do very much value generosity and giving — but primarily toward family and members of other close-knit groups. In China, for example (140th on the World Giving Index — last place), traditional Confucian teachings emphasize the value of generosity, but with a focus on benefiting close family members and friends. A focus on group bonds requires that members of collectivist cultures draw distinctions between group members whose welfare, goals, and identities are deeply interdependent — and everyone else. And less value is placed on the welfare of everyone else. This is the unfortunate, and perhaps inevitable, downside of maintaining strong group bonds and identities. Decades of psychology research reliably find that dividing people into defined groups causes them to treat members of other groups worse.

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