Social Structure, Infectious Diseases, Disasters, Secularism, and Cultural Change in America

Igor Grossmann, Michael E.W. Varnum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

190 Scopus citations


Why do cultures change? The present work examined cultural change in eight cultural-level markers, or correlates, of individualism in the United States, all of which increased over the course of the 20th century: frequency of individualist themes in books, preference for uniqueness in baby naming, frequency of single-child relative to multichild families, frequency of single-generation relative to multigeneration households, percentage of adults and percentage of older adults living alone, small family size, and divorce rates (relative to marriage rates). We tested five key hypotheses regarding cultural change in individualism-collectivism. As predicted by previous theories, changes in socioeconomic structure, pathogen prevalence, and secularism accompanied changes in individualism averaged across all measures. The relationship with changes in individualism was less robust for urbanization. Contrary to previous theories, changes in individualism were positively (as opposed to negatively) related to the frequency of disasters. Time-lagged analyses suggested that only socioeconomic structure had a robust effect on individualism; changes in socioeconomic structure preceded changes in individualism. Implications for anthropology, psychology, and sociology are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-324
Number of pages14
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 16 2015


  • cross-cultural differences
  • cultural change
  • cultural products
  • ecology
  • individualism
  • open data
  • social class

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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