06 February 2009

You're Not the King (of Beers) of Me!

The new issue of Reason, the moderate libertarian monthly, reached my mailbox today. One of the first items that caught my eye was a brief summary of findings recently published in the Journal of Consumer Research that purported to correlate individualism and national levels of beer consumption. The beer statistics are available to anyone, but national degrees of individualism were determined by "a scale developed by the Dutch marketing researcher Geert Hofstede." There are more details of the survey in this newspaper article from the Texas city where the research was done.

“Previous research on this had shown a correlation between individualism and impulsive buying,” according to the professor in charge of the university marketing department, “The definition of an individualist is that we act on our attitudes, we be ourselves, whereas in collectivist societies that's more frowned upon, and you want to make sure you reflect on the good of the group.” The argument appears to be that collectivist cultures are less likely to drink beer, and that within the individualist U.S., comparative degrees of individualism in states correlate with beer consumption. On a tangent, the professor noted that, despite the state's image, Texas is ranked 11th out of 50 states in collectivist mentality. The prof. blames this on influxes of Latino and East European immigrants.

Where does Geert Hofstede come in? The professor has his own website that includes a "Cultural Dimensions" chart that allows international travelers to compare their own countries with those they visit according to five factors, including "masculinity" (i.e., "gender differentiation") and "uncertainty avoidance" along with individualism. The U.S. scores 91 out of 100 on individualism, 61 out of 100 on masculinity, 46 out of 100 on uncertainty avoidance. The web site describes American individualism thusly: "The high Individualism (IDV) ranking for the United States indicates a society with a more individualistic attitude and relatively loose bonds with others. The populace is more self-reliant and looks out for themselves and their close family members."

Can we deduce that self-reliance and concern for family correlate with high beer consumption? That sounds almost counterfactual, and I must note that Hofstede, for what he's worth, has nothing that I know of to do with the beer survey. That thesis begs all kinds of questions? Are other alcoholic beverages (vodka, perhaps?) conducive to collectivism? Can individualism and collective consciousness be identified and compared among drunks in the first place. Most importantly, does the kind of beer you drink make a difference? Are microbrew imbibers more individualistic than Bud swillers, or Guiness fans more so than Coors enthusiasts? There's room for much more research in this important field. Any volunteers?


Anonymous said...

I'd say the idea of the "community gun" prevalent in so many American ghettos and the number of "tribes" or "gangs" on the rise among these same areas might dispute this study. Or maybe it's just white beer-guzzling Americans who are individualists. Gee, isn't "individualist" just a prettier way of saying "self-centered"? One cannot be "individualist" and patriotic, that would seem to by counterproductive.

Samuel Wilson said...

That's the American paradox. For a lot of us, being self-interested IS being patriotic, and patriotism is a matter of self-interest. That's not what the Founders intended, but sometime in the 19th century laissez-faire economics overwhelmed the spirit of civic virtue (including frugality) that animated the Founding generation. What all this has to do with beer is still a mystery to me.

Anonymous said...

I blame it on Samuel Adams. Damn him and his potent brew.