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Post-Materialism and Environmental Values in Post-Communist Countries

Michael Smith
Institute of Sociology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
Michael Smith
Institute of Sociology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
Open Panel

Abstract

The post-materialist thesis stipulates that as societies become increasingly prosperous, and as individuals live in material comfort, their need to be committed to materialist concerns weakens and they instead begin to endorse a new set of values relating to personal autonomy and self-expression. While that thesis is very well known and has been confirmed by numerous studies, there have been relatively few cross-national studies on the development of post-materialism in the post-communist countries of Eastern Europe – a region of the world that is an ideal laboratory for testing that thesis. This paucity of research on the region is largely due to the lack of adequate international social survey data in post-Soviet states, as well as the lack of sufficient time-series data until recent years. Based on the 4th Round of the European Values Study in 2008, which includes 47 European states (24 of which are post-communist), this paper presents the results of several inter-related analyses. First, I conduct a multi-level analysis assessing the impact of economic development and economic inequality (at the country level), and social class and income (at the individual level), on materialist and post-materialist values across Europe. I hypothesize that there would be strong interaction effects between an individual’s social class and his or her country’s level of development (i.e. that class would have relatively stronger effects on post-materialism in the less developed nations). The analyses thus far confirm this hypothesis. The paper then shifts perspectives on post-materialism from a dependent to an independent variable by examining the effect of post-materialist values on environmental beliefs across the countries concerned (using a structural equation model), again taking into account social class, income and related variables. While the results will not likely shed much new light about Western Europe, I believe that the results will provide important insights on the topic of the transformation of societal and environmental values in post-communist countries, thus furthering understanding of green politics in that part of the world.