Nations Need to Consider Culture in Fighting Future Pandemics
A nation’s culture played a role in its ability to curtail the spread of COVID-19, providing a roadmap for future pandemics that will save lives and minimize the economic fallout, according to a new study from researchers at Florida Atlantic University and two other institutions.
The study, published in the Journal of International Business Studies, categorized countries as either collectivistic or individualistic based on scores from Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory.
South Korea, Singapore and other collectivistic nations, whose citizens display altruistic behavior and prioritize group goals, experienced lower COVID-19 case growth rates than individualistic nations, such as the United States and Italy, where people emphasize individual freedoms and personal interests.
“The U.S. and other individualistic countries should learn from past experiences,” said Len Treviño, Ph.D., director of the International Business programs in FAU’s College of Business. “For instance, South Korea was able to control the spread of COVID-19 in part because it applied what it learned from the previous SARS pandemic. We argue that all countries should attempt to unify their citizens by pointing out that adhering to pandemic control measures and a healthy economy go hand in hand.”
Treviño, Ratan Dheer, Ph.D., of Eastern Michigan University, and Carolyn Egri, Ph.D., of Simon Fraser University in Canada, analyzed COVID-19 case data for the first three months of infection in 107 nations.
Researchers found that stringent government measures during the initial phase of the pandemic were critical to slowing the increase in cases, including serious cases that require hospitalization. But the study also showed that higher government regulations lowered case growth rates more substantially in collectivistic nations.
For individualistic nations, the researchers found that public communications about mitigation strategies must emphasize the personal health and economic benefits for each citizen to be successful.
“In the future, we believe the U.S. and all countries should provide clear messages early on regarding the potential mortality and morbidity of a pandemic,” Treviño said. “In order to have the intended impact, the focus and content of these messages should be tailored to the cultural context.”
The research also categorized countries by how willing they are to defer to authority, known as power distance. Japan, Taiwan and other high-power-distance nations, whose citizens are more inclined to follow guidelines, are less likely to challenge the legitimacy of mitigation. Those countries had lower case growth than Germany and other countries demonstrating low power distance, where people staged protests in response to mitigation.
Researchers also found that high-uncertainty-avoidance nations such as Spain also challenged mitigation, which had higher case growth than countries such as Denmark, where people are more willing to try new things.