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Cultural Differences in Work and Life Patterns

Examine the main differences in patterns of everyday life, work, government support and self sufficiency among peoples of the world.

How are these patterns changing, and what contribution is the activity of businesses owned by peoples in North America, Australia, Japan and Western Europe making to these changes?

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Considering the main differences in the patterns of everyday life, work, government support and self sufficiency among peoples of the world is complicated by the fact that there are 6 billion people in the world, and each of them will have their own life, job and other unique attributes. In addition, with over 200 recognised countries on Earth, it is difficult to analyse patterns on a country basis in such a small piece. As such, it is necessary to define a limited number of groups of similar countries in order to analyse the patterns. This piece will use three main groups based on the definitions of Hines (2008). The first of these is the ‘W1’ group, which consists of the United States, Western Europe, Japan, Korea and Australia, which are viewed as the most developed economies in the world, with large consumptions of resources and goods. The second group, ‘W2’, consists of the nations with relatively strong economies, and a balanced profile of resources and consumption. These include India, China, Brazil, Russia and many other rapidly growing nations. Finally, ‘W3’ includes the poorest nations on Earth, including much of Africa and Bangladesh.

The differences in wealth in these countries helps explain some of the differences in patterns of everyday life, reflected in cultural values. The W3 nations emphasise traditional values, respect for authority, obedience, the importance of religion, strong work ethics and the importance of large families. In contrast, the W2 segment focuses on achievement, the value of science and technology, the importance of the state hard work, and a belief that parents and children have a mutual need for each other. Finally, the W1 group emphasize self-expression, the importance of the individual and individual responsibility, tolerance, a balanced life, leisure and good health (Hines, 2008). Further insight can be obtained from looking at discretionary spending in nations, with the W1 group spending heavily on recreation, alcohol and tobacco, the W2 group focusing on clothing and household goods, and the W3 group making almost no discretionary spending due to their lack of disposable income (Fairfield et al, 2008).

The main changes in the patterns of everyday life focus around technology and infrastructure. Media and communications, previously dominated by the W1 group, are now spreading rapidly amongst the W2 group and even into W3, and there are few places in the world where access in now impossible. As such, the most connected places in the world are now almost exclusively within the W3 group, particularly in Scandinavia, which is considered part of W2. However, within the W3 group, and some of the W2 nations, there has been a collision between the spread of technology and the important role of the state. As a result, some governments such as Myanmar and North Korea and China, to a limited extent, have attempted to control the flow of information, leading to some tension in the lives of their citizens. In addition, access to electricity has been rising regularly, changing the lives of huge numbers of people across the world. Again, the spread has been mainly in W2 nations, with W3 lagging behind, with only 23% of sub-Saharan Africa having access to electricity. This is leading to a growing gap in the everyday lives of people in the W1 and W2 nations and those in the W3, who are being rapidly left behind (Hines, 2008).

The patterns of work across the world are strongly driven by the influence of global production systems. Hayter (2005) notes that of the total number of employed people in the world, only 16 per cent are in the W1 nations, despite these nations controlling around 50 per cent of the world’s total wealth. This is reflected in the fact that most people in the W1 industries work in service industries; W2 is dominated by manufacturing; and working patterns in W3 are concentrated in the agriculture and subsistence industries. In addition, the patterns of participation in the labour force vary across different regions and countries. The patterns of participation tend to be much higher in countries where income levels are lower, and there is limited social security coverage. As such, W3 countries tend to have higher levels of participation in the labour force. However, this can again conflict with sociological tendencies, with the Middle East and North Africa having low levels of participation due to low levels of female participation, who are seen as being responsible for the family (Hayter, 2005).

The changing patterns of work have generally been characterised as devaluing the dignity of work, turning jobs into simple factors of production and ignoring the family and national significance of work to many people. However, specific trends are focused at the two ends of the spectrum, with the proportion of children in the workforce having fallen by 26 per cent over the last four years. In particular, for the youngest children aged 5-14 years the proportion of children in work has been reduced by 33 per cent. This is leading to patterns in W2 and W3, where levels of child labour are high, moving towards those in W1. At the same time, older men are now generally working less, with older women working more. However, as the proportion of people aged over 60 is increasing every year, labour force participation rates amongst the over 50 workers have increased significantly worldwide. The traditional focus on family means that participation rates of older workers are highest in Asia and Africa, however again these rates are converging as financial pressure forces similar patterns in developed countries due to the fall in social security protection (ILO, 2006).

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Indeed, the variation in social security systems is the main difference in the patterns of government support across different nations, with the ILO (2005) reporting that social security systems vary significant across countries, and social security budgets do not correlate to GDP levels. In particular, many countries make substantial deductions from workers or employers, some only provide payments to their poorest citizens, and some require workers to depend on their own personal security, or those provided by their employers. Here the patterns are generally not dependent on income levels but on policy, as many W1 nations have the oldest populations, and hence the highest burdens on society. As a result, the main trend in this area is that the working population is essentially paying for an ever increasing proportion of the current retirees’ pensions. This shift is being led by the W1 group, particularly Europe and Japan, and is resulting in increasing working lives, and lower levels of government support to retirees (ILO, 2006).

Finally, the main trend in self sufficiency is rooted in the fact that the W1 economies grew so developed as a result of their exports of manufactured goods are resources to developing countries. However, as this balance has shifted, so the W1 economies have imported more goods and resources from the W2 and W3 countries, whilst exporting more capital and services the other way. As such, self sufficiency is arguably less viable now than at any other point, with most resource exporting economies requiring significant amounts of capital and machinery, and most developed economies requiring high levels of resources, hence creating mutual dependency (Kapstein, 2000).

In conclusion, the patterns of life, work, support and self sufficiency are complicated and affected by numerous factors. However, the key factors changing the trends and patterns in these areas are rooted in two areas. The first of these is the aging populations and increasing life expectancy of people around the world, particularly in the W1 nations. This has led to increased social security burdens in these countries, increasing levels of work and reduced government support. The other is an increasing level of exports of manufactured goods and resources from less developed countries to the W1 nations, who are increasingly service based and resource poor. This has reduced levels of self sufficiency across the world.


  1. Bannock, G. (2005) The Economics and Management of Small Business. Routledge: London.
  2. Fairfield, H. He, E. and Quealy, K. (2008) What Your Global Neighbors Are Buying. The New York Times; 4th September 2008.
  3. Hayter, S. (2005) The social dimension of global production systems: A review of the issues., Working Paper No. 25, Policy Integration Department; ILO.
  4. Hines, A. (2008) Global Trends in Culture, Infrastructure, and Values. Futurist; Vol. 42, Issue 5, p. 18-23.
  5. ILO (2006) Changing Patterns In The World Of Work. ILO International Labour Conference, 95th Session. 2006.
  6. ILO (2005) Social protection as a productive factor. ILO Governing Body, 294th Session. November 2005.
  7. Kapstein, E. B. (2000) Winners and Losers in the Global Economy. International Organization; Vol. 54, Issue 2, p. 359-384.
  8. Madeley J. (1999) Big Business Poor Peoples: The Impact of Transnational Corporations on the World’s Poor. Zed, London.
  9. Storey, D. J. (2000) Understanding the Small Business Sector. Thomson: London.


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