Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Does the importance of values encouraged in children vary with size of government?

If big government is taking us towards a brave new world we might expect this to show up in differences in values held by people in countries with big and small governments. As discussed in my last post there seems to be some evidence that people in high-income countries with big governments tend to hold more secular-rational values than those in high-income countries with small governments. In this post I explore this further by looking particularly at differences in the values that children are encouraged to learn at home.

World Values Surveys ask a directly relevant question about what qualities it is especially important for children to be encouraged to learn at home. Respondents are asked to choose from the following list: good manners, independence, hard work, feeling of responsibility, imagination, tolerance and respect for other people, thrift (saving money and things), determination/ perseverance, religious faith, unselfishness and obedience.

I have focused on the 14 high-income countries with protestant or catholic heritage for which data is available from the most recent World Values Survey (WVS 2005 – 2008). These countries have been ranked by size of government, using government spending as a percentage of GDP as an indicator of size of government (OECD Economic Outlook data on general government outlays as a percentage of nominal GDP, averaged over the three years 2005–08).

Child qualities which apparently differ in importance between the countries with big and relatively small governments were identified by looking at the differences between the averages for the four countries with largest and smallest size of government. The differences were greatest (relative to the mean) in the case of hard work, thrift, religious faith and unselfishness.

The results are shown in the following table in which countries are ranked by size of government. For each variable the five highest numbers are shown against a red background and the five lowest ratings are shown against a blue background.

The results suggest that hard work tends to be more strongly encouraged in the countries with relatively small governments, while thrift tends to be more strongly encouraged in countries with big governments. (I find that result surprising because hard work and thrift often tend to be linked together as traditional virtues.) The results for religious faith and unselfishness do not appear to be consistently related to size of government.

It will be interesting to see whether any consistent patterns emerge from an examination of other values that apparently differ according to size of government.

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