How do we become emancipated?


The World Value Survey (WVS) is a remarkable project. Since 1981, the WVS has collected data on the attitudes, beliefs and values of almost 100 countries. The power of the survey is that the same questions are asked in all countries, allowing the attitudes of citizens across the world to be compared. The project is now entering its seventh data collection wave, allowing us to understand how values have changed over the last three and a half decades.


One of the biggest contributions, by Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, to understanding value change has been the visualisation of values on cultural maps. In his new book Freedom Rising, Welzel presents ‘emancipative’ and ‘secular’ values. Emancipative value is determined from the answers of WVS interviewees to questions about “autonomy, choice, equality and voice”, while secular value relates to the importance individuals put in religious, patrimonial, state and group authority. Examples of these values are plotted below, giving a powerful image of how people living in different countries see the world.


In Freedom Rising, Welzel develops a bold hypothesis, called the \"Human Development Sequence\". The hypothesis is that as people become richer, they become more emancipated. In turn, these emancipated individuals demand and obtain democratic change. It is a theory that seems to make sense to many of us living in the West. It is an explanation that rings true with events like the Arab Spring, where many educated, emancipated people took to the streets to demand greater democracy.


In a recent paper, we put Welzel’s theory to the test, by looking at how development, democracy and values changed between 1981 and 2006 in 65 countries. We found that human-rights democracy grows faster in richer countries and in countries where citizens are better educated. But we didn’t find that emancipative values were important in the growth of democracy. Instead, the opposite relationship held: emancipation grows fastest in more democratic countries. It is democracy which drives emancipation.


The animation below illustrates how emancipative values have changed in ?, ?, ? and ?. ? has .

The animation also shows the mathematical model which best fit the available data. In this model, emancipative values only increase if both human-rights democracy and Human Development Index (HDI) are large. For people to become emancipated they need all the things we take for granted in the West: democracy, human-rights, education, health care and economic prosperity. Once all of these parts of the puzzle are in place then people start to view choice and equality as important.

We are not entirely sure how to explain why the majority of people become emancipated only after the establishment of democracy. One suggestion is that democracy takes of when a small \'elite\' establishes democracy (reference), and only after it is established do their values spread to the rest of the population. A better understanding is needed before we can say anything for sure.

One thing is for sure. The general trend is towards more democratic, richer countries with better health care and education. And the citizens of these countries have increasingly emphasise openness, tolerance and choice. The change may not be going fast enough for many of us, but it is going in the right direction.



Technical Details

The model: In the model presented emancipation (E ) increases with

frac{dE}{dt} = 0.006 H D

So with the product of the human development index (H ) and human-rights  democracy (D ). For the full equations for interactions between emancipative values, democracy, human-rights, education, health care and economic prosperity se our article, availably freely online.

Data set: A full list of data and references can be found here. There are of course limitations to the data used. Not all countries have been surveyed by WVS over a sufficient time period for us to measure change. And those countries which lack data tend to be those which are poorest and least democratic. However, we have used all the available data and our article explains how our approach can be applied as more data becomes available.