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Increased global economic growth creates more tolerant societies

Posted on June 5, 2013

When an individual or a country is no longer threatened by hunger or deadly epidemics, there is increased tolerance of other people and mutual trust between them. This was one of the main points in Michigan Professor Ronald Inglehart’s presentation at MatchPoints 2013.

On the second day of this year’s MatchPoints Seminar, Professor Robert Inglehart, University of Michigan, presented impressive empirical data in support of his Evolutionary Modernisation Theory.

Professor Inglehart used questionnaire surveys of populations in 80 countries on six continents to document his theory that a society’s level of trust, tolerance and openness grows pari passu with the country’s economy and people’s experience of the security that this welfare brings about for both the individual and society.

“Growing existential security results in a change of society’s values, and people generally become more tolerant of other groups, such as immigrants and homosexuals, when they no longer feel that their own existence is threatened,” Professor Inglehart said.

Generally speaking, the last 45 years have brought about the strongest economic growth the world has ever seen. This development has generally resulted in less xenophobia and changed conditions for women. The gender difference at universities today, for example, is very different from the male dominance that previously characterised the degree programmes.

Food before freedom of expression

While a growing feeling of existential safety and security also results in increased tolerance of foreigners, support for gender equality and, in the long term, democratic political institutions, the very opposite happens if you feel that your existence is threatened.

“Essentially, the extent of a person’s trust and tolerance depends on whether you grow up in a place where you have to fight for your survival. If you’re threatened by hunger or disease, you may have good reasons – also of an historical nature – for not welcoming people from elsewhere. And if you lack the basic food to survive, then freedom of expression and gender equality aren’t exactly what you’re most concerned about,” Professor Inglehart said.

And while the professor is well aware that the inhabitants of Detroit may not like having to compete with both China and India right now, he thinks we should look at things in a somewhat broader perspective.

“The economic growth experienced by large countries like China and India is good for the whole world. We’ll all benefit from that in the long run,” Professor Inglehart said.

Source: Aarhus University

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