After Postmaterialism: An Essay on China, Russia and the United States

  • Robert Brym Sociology, University of Toronto
Keywords: Political sociology, Values, Postmaterialism, China, Russia, United States


The postmaterialist thesis makes two main claims. First, over time, rising affluence enables many people to substantially satisfy their need for security and economic sustenance, allowing them to focus on pursuing personal autonomy and self-expression. Second, at a given time, younger people, individuals in higher socio-economic positions and wealthier societies tend to be more postmaterialistic than are older people, individuals in lower socio-economic positions and poorer societies. Cursory analysis of American, Chinese and Russian survey data since the late 1980s demonstrates that some of these generalizations are difficult to sustain. While postmaterialism may have been on the rise in some countries in the last decades of the 20th century, it seems now to be a waning force among major world powers, giving way to increasing nationalism and xenophobia. The absence in postmaterialist theory of an adequate explanation for this trend suggests the need to pay more attention to the causes of alternative development paths. Two such causes are outlined in this essay: intensifying geopolitical rivalries and growing economic inequality.

Author Biography

Robert Brym, Sociology, University of Toronto
Robert Brym, FRSA, is SD Clark Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto
Note on Society/Réflexion sur la société