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Open Access Social Cohesion and Its Correlates: A Comparison of Western and Asian Societies

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Social Cohesion and Its Correlates: A Comparison of Western and Asian Societies

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For content published from 1960-2001, see International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

Trust can either be conceived of as a social glue in its own right, or as a constitutive element of a larger societal syndrome, termed social cohesion. This contribution takes the latter perspective, analyzing social trust and trust in institutions as integral parts of social cohesion more generally. Despite ongoing worries about the state of social cohesion in contemporary societies, surprisingly little is known as to which macro-level conditions actually weaken social cohesion, and which foster it. It remains an open question whether social cohesion is shaped by universal social forces that work similarly in various world regions, or by region-specific ones (the same holds true for outcomes of social cohesion). Against this background, the present paper seeks to advance our understanding of correlates of social cohesion by systematically comparing Western and Asian societies. The empirical analysis is based on the most comprehensive index of social cohesion currently available, the Bertelsmann Social Cohesion Radar. In separate analyses of 34 Western and 22 Asian societies, the authors explore the associations of economic, social, political, and cultural conditions with cohesion, as well as the associations between cohesion and population well-being. The results suggest that while some correlates (such as economic prosperity) can indeed be considered universal, others (e.g. income inequality, political freedom) work differently in Western and Asian societies. The authors link these findings to sociological and cross-cultural psychological theories on Asian modernization and Asian values. The practical conclusion is that not all policy recommendations for strengthening social cohesion can easily travel from one world region to another.

Affiliations: 1: Institute for Sociology, Otto von Guericke University MagdeburgGermany j.delhey@ovgu.de ; 2: Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences (BIGSSS), Jacobs University BremenGermanyInternational Laboratory for Sociocultural Research, National Research University Higher School of Economics MoscowRussia k.boehnke@jacobs-university.de ; 3: BIGSSS, Jacobs University BremenGermany g.dragolov@jacobs-university.de ; 4: Institute of Sociology, Freie Universität BerlinGermany zsofia.ignacz@fu-berlin.de ; 5: BIGSSS, Jacobs University BremenGermany m.larsen@jacobs-university.de ; 6: Department of Psychology and Methods, Jacobs University BremenGermany j.lorenz@jacobs-university.de ; 7: Institute for Sociology, Otto von Guericke University MagdeburgGermany m.koch@detmold.de

Trust can either be conceived of as a social glue in its own right, or as a constitutive element of a larger societal syndrome, termed social cohesion. This contribution takes the latter perspective, analyzing social trust and trust in institutions as integral parts of social cohesion more generally. Despite ongoing worries about the state of social cohesion in contemporary societies, surprisingly little is known as to which macro-level conditions actually weaken social cohesion, and which foster it. It remains an open question whether social cohesion is shaped by universal social forces that work similarly in various world regions, or by region-specific ones (the same holds true for outcomes of social cohesion). Against this background, the present paper seeks to advance our understanding of correlates of social cohesion by systematically comparing Western and Asian societies. The empirical analysis is based on the most comprehensive index of social cohesion currently available, the Bertelsmann Social Cohesion Radar. In separate analyses of 34 Western and 22 Asian societies, the authors explore the associations of economic, social, political, and cultural conditions with cohesion, as well as the associations between cohesion and population well-being. The results suggest that while some correlates (such as economic prosperity) can indeed be considered universal, others (e.g. income inequality, political freedom) work differently in Western and Asian societies. The authors link these findings to sociological and cross-cultural psychological theories on Asian modernization and Asian values. The practical conclusion is that not all policy recommendations for strengthening social cohesion can easily travel from one world region to another.

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