15 Cultural Differences Examples

traditional dance

Examples of cultural differences include differences in values, norms, beliefs, mores, rituals, mannerisms, and expressions between different societies.

We can also identify cultural differences in eating and drinking habits, religious beliefs, moral beliefs, rituals, time management, sanitation, greeting, gift giving, exchange, conformity, rebelliousness, sports, language, work ethic, marriage, and so on can all be cultural.

It is common to apply Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory to analyze different dimensions of cultures (Hofstede, 2011).

Cultural Differences Examples

  • Kinship – Kinship principles generally form the basis of societal organization. Families consisting of at least one parent and one child are customary in all societies, but there are many differences beyond this.
  • Marriage – Marriage and families seem to be human universals, but there is significant variability in customs related to these aspects of social life.
  • Sexuality – Interestingly enough, societies vary significantly in the degree to which they encourage or discourage intimacy and its different forms at different stages of life.
  • Art – Virtually all societies have some forms of art. Visual art, music, song, dance, literature, etc. of different cultures vary significantly.
  • Religion – Religious beliefs and practices are features of all known societies, but they vary significantly between cultures.
  • Gender – Categorizing children into the binary categories of female and male is fairly common, but there is significant cultural variability in the toleration of switching categories and the number of genders.
  • Sports – Games and sports seem to be human universals, but the types of games and sports played by different cultures vary.
  • Dwellings – Different societies, often due to environmental as well as cultural reasons, have very different types of houses or dwellings.
  • Celebrations – Cultural celebrations in different cultures include New Years Eve, Chinese new year, birthdays, and Diwali.
  • Cultural taboosWhile there are some universal taboos, you’ll also notice that some cultures consider certain things you consider ‘normal’ to be very much taboo! For example, some cultures encourage eye contact while other cultures find it offensive.
  • Rites of passage – Rites of passage can include the walkabout in Indigenous Australian culture, baptisms in Christianity, school graduation ceremonies, and so forth.
  • WorldviewsIn broad strokes, Western nations like the modern United States have had a strong history of individualism, while Indigenous cultures often embrace communalism and stewardship of nature.
  • Dress codes – When you travel the world, you quickly learn that some cultures encourage conservative dress, such as covering your shoulders and knees in public.
  • Food and eating habits – This includes not only what you eat, but when. Go to Spain, for example, and learn all about very late dinners!
  • Educational methods – In 21st Century Western nations, we are accustomed to formal education in classrooms and standardized testing. But go to Indigenous Australian communities, and we can see that they have their own learning styles heavily reliant on story sharing, symbolism, and non-verbal cues.

Thought Bubble: Are We Really All That Different?

Some anthropologists and biologists have argued against the empirical assumption that cultures are as variable as we might think.

These anthropologists argue that there are cultural universals – concepts that unite all cultures.

Kinship, mourning, birth, the experience of empathy and sympathy, fear, concepts of luck, the use of grammar, exchange, cooperation, competition, aggression, reciprocity, and the biological needs, are some of the constant elements of human experience that go against the assumption that world cultures are fundamentally different (Brown 2004).

Common Categories of Cultural Difference

1. Kinship

Unlike many other mammals, human adults rarely live alone. Families are the basic building blocks of any society.

How big these families are and how they are composed varies significantly between cultures.

Consider this example: you are a parent worried about your children no longer living with you when you’re too old for productive work. Some children will grow up and get married. Once they’re married, some children will have to stop living with their parents.

It is, therefore, necessary to decide who lives where. Rules that determine this are called marital residence rules. They differ significantly between cultures (Ember, 2022).

The two most common marital residence rules specify the gender expected to stay and the one expected to leave. When the rule states that the daughter must stay and her husband must move to where her family resides, it is called a matrilocal residence rule.

The inverse is called a patrilocal residence rule. These account for around 85% of the cases social scientists know about, but patrilocal residence is far more common among cultures.

2. Marriage

Different cultures have varying rules for how many people one can be married to simultaneously, what kind of marriage partner one is allowed, and so on.

In virtually all societies known to social scientists today, it is prohibited to marry one’s brother, sister, or parent. Most societies extend this to include the entire kin group.

There are, however, significant cultural differences regarding community exogamy/endogamy, cousin marriage, arranged marriage, polygyny/polyandry, and so on (Ember, 2021).

Let’s take the example of community exogamy and endogamy. Community exogamy refers to marriage with a spouse from another community. Endogamy refers to marriage within the community.

The most common rule is to allow marriage both within and outside of the community, as it is accepted in, for example, European countries. Community exogamy occurs in around 33% of the world’s societies, while endogamy occurs in 7.5% (Kirby et al., 2016).

Another example of cultural variation can be observed in rules concerning the toleration of cousin marriage. Some societies, like the Selk’nam of Tierra del Fuego, are averse to marriage between related people (Gusinde, 1931). Others, like the Komachi of southern Iran, prefer being married to their kin (Bradburd, 1990, p. 115).

3. Art

There are interesting differences regarding the arts of different cultures that can be seen through analysis.

For example, since egalitarian societies tend to value sameness and stratified societies tend to value hierarchies, the art of egalitarian societies will often contain more repetition than the art of stratified ones (Fischer, 1961).

4. Religion

Religious beliefs and practices vary significantly from culture to culture and change over time.

Different societies have different gods, spirits, rituals, and supernatural forces.

Religion itself appears to be common across many cultures, but the specifics are not. According to Émile Durkheim and his followers, religion is the glue that holds societies together (Atran & Henrich, 2010).

Conclusion

The vast body of research conducted by social scientists about human societies and cultures allows us to find, compare, and analyze human cultural universals and differences. If there are different cultures, there are differences between them. It is the task of social scientists to research those differences.

References

Atran, S., & Henrich, J. (2010). The Evolution of Religion: How Cognitive By-Products, Adaptive Learning Heuristics, Ritual Displays, and Group Competition Generate Deep Commitments to Prosocial Religions. Biological Theory, 5(1), 18–30. https://doi.org/10.1162/BIOT_a_00018

Baghramian, M., & Carter, J. A. (2022). Relativism. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2022). Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2022/entries/relativism/

Boas, F. (1940). Race, Language, and Culture. University of Chicago Press.

Bradburd, D. (1990). Ambiguous relations: Kin, class, and conflict among Komachi pastoralists. Smithsonian Institution Press. http://books.google.com/books?id=mgRuAAAAMAAJ

Broude, G. J. (1980). Extramarital Sex Norms in Cross-Cultural Perspective. Behavior Science Research, 15(3), 181–218. https://doi.org/10.1177/106939718001500302

Broude, G. J. (2004). Sexual Attitudes and Practices. In C. R. Ember & M. Ember (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Men and Women in the World’s Cultures Volume I: Topics and Cultures A-K Volume II: Cultures L-Z (pp. 177–186). Springer US. https://doi.org/10.1007/0-387-29907-6_18

Brown, D. E. (2004). Human universals, human nature & human culture. Daedalus, 133(4), 47–54. https://doi.org/10.1162/0011526042365645

Ember, C. R. (2019). Sexuality. https://hraf.yale.edu/ehc/summaries/sexuality

Ember, C. R. (2021). Marriage and Family. https://hraf.yale.edu/ehc/summaries/marriage-and-family

Ember, C. R. (2022). Residence and Kinship. https://hraf.yale.edu/ehc/summaries/residence-and-kinship

Fischer, J. L. (1961). Art Styles as Cultural Cognitive Maps1. American Anthropologist, 63(1), 79–93. https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1961.63.1.02a00050

Gusinde, M. (1931). The Fireland Indians: Vol. 1. The Selk’nam, on the life and thought of a hunting people of the Great Island of Tierra del Fuego. https://ehrafworldcultures.yale.edu/cultures/sh04/documents/001

Hofstede, G. (2011). Dimensionalizing Cultures: The Hofstede Model in Context. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1014

Kirby, K. R., Gray, R. D., Greenhill, S. J., Jordan, F. M., Gomes-Ng, S., Bibiko, H.-J., Blasi, D. E., Botero, C. A., Bowern, C., Ember, C. R., Leehr, D., Low, B. S., McCarter, J., Divale, W., & Gavin, M. C. (2016). D-PLACE: A Global Database of Cultural, Linguistic and Environmental Diversity. PLOS ONE, 11(7), e0158391. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0158391

Lenard, P. T. (2020). Culture. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2020). Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2020/entries/culture/

van de Vijver, F. (2009). Types of Comparative Studies in Cross-Cultural Psychology. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(2). https://doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1017

Tio Gabunia (B.Arch, M.Arch)
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Tio Gabunia is an academic writer and architect based in Tbilisi. He has studied architecture, design, and urban planning at the Georgian Technical University and the University of Lisbon. He has worked in these fields in Georgia, Portugal, and France. Most of Tio’s writings concern philosophy. Other writings include architecture, sociology, urban planning, and economics.

Chris Drew (PhD)
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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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