Political Culture of Argentina I

Democratic Culture in
Argentina: 1984-2013

José Eduardo JorgeJosé Eduardo Jorge

EnglishPostmaterialism and Materialism. Generational value change in Argentina. Regional differences. Impact of the recurrent economic crisis on postmaterialism. The influence of education and income. Inglehart’s postmaterialist values indices in Argentina. Go to Definition of Political Culture. See also Democratic Culture


The Components of Democratic Political Culture

This article shows results of a Research Program on democratic political culture that I have conducted from 2006 to the present day in Argentine universities, extending a series of studies and actions that I carried out since 2001 in the spheres of NGOs and universities.

My goal here is to offer an introductory overview of Argentine political culture since the democratic restoration in 1983 on key indicators highlighted by the major theories in the field. I also use a fundamental set of these indicators to compare and analyze the evolution of the political culture of Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and other Latin American countries throughout the last decades.

After a brief reference to essential concepts and theoretical approaches, I focus on Argentina to scrutinize the trends followed during the last thirty years by Emancipative or Self-Expression Values and a number of orientations associated with Social Capital and Political Trust. Schwartz’s structure of Basic Values and its links to the previous orientations are also discussed.

In order to show the potential of the approach and explore the position of Latin American democracies in the international arena, I build an Index of Democratic Political Culture and apply it to a sample of 82 countries. This instrument allows me to test to what extent democratic culture can predict a country’s “level of democracy” – measured by Freedom House scores on political rights and civil liberties – controlling for different socioeconomic variables. All analyses are own calculations from the World Values Survey’s database, which contains more than 400,000 cases.

Evolution of Postmaterialism in Argentina

What are the main features of Argentine political culture of democracy when viewed through the prism of the theoretical approaches we have outlined? How have its most important components evolved in the course of recent decades?

In order to analyze these trends in a particular country, we need to take into account, along with the general previsions of the theories, the specific factors of that society that can affect in particular ways the evolution of the components of political culture.

I first introduce a set of indicators selected by virtue of their relevance to the postmodernization theory. The emancipative or self-expression values are a cultural system that prioritizes freedom of choice, participation in decision making, gender equality, respect for others, and generalized trust. According to the theory, this structure of interrelated values, which imply and influence each other, is congruent with democracy and emerges at the stage of advanced or postindustrial development (Inglehart, 1990, 1997; Inglehart & Welzel, 2005).

My selection of this specific set of indicators is also given by the availability of data on a large number of countries at different time points in successive waves of the World Values Survey.

Postmaterialism refers to the degree to which the members of a society, as a result of socio-economic development, give less priority to materialistic values linked to basic economic needs and physical security, and more primacy to self-expression values related to higher order needs for intellectual independence, belonging and esteem (Inglehart, 1990, pp. 130-135).

We would expect that in Argentina – by virtue of being a middle-income country, which also presents marked social and regional inequalities – the postmodern shift is necessarily limited. The recurrent economic crises that have taken place since the 1970s, especially the collapse of 2001-2002 and the hyperinflation of 1989-1990, have also led to sharp fluctuations in material conditions of life.

A central hypothesis of the theory is that postmaterialism spreads throughout society as new generations, who grow up under conditions of increasing economic security, replace the previous ones. This generational pattern is clearly visible in Argentina (Jorge, 2015, 2010, pp. 173-6).

The most widely used measure of postmaterialism is a 4-items index developed by Inglehart (Inglehart, 1990, 1997). The respondent has to choose two out of four country’s goals that are proposed for the next ten years: maintaining order, increasing citizen participation in government decisions, fighting inflation and protecting freedom of expression. The people who choose participation and freedom of expression are classified as posmaterialists, while those who select order and inflation are materialists. The other interviewed are categorized as “mixed.”

Figure 1, which updates data presented until 2006 in Jorge, 2010, shows the difference between the percentages of postmaterialists and materialists by age cohort and year (see data in Table A1 of the Annex). The zero point on the vertical axis represents equal proportions of postmaterialists and materialists within an age cohort. The area of the graph above the zero horizontal line corresponds to positive values on the vertical axis, when the percentage of postmaterialists within a cohort is higher than that of materialists. The section of negative values below that line shows the opposite situation.

In 1995, for example, Argentines born from 1960 to 1969 show the highest value of the index (+28), which results from subtracting within that age cohort the percentage of materialists (10 percent) from that of postmaterialists (38 percent).

Figure 1 
% Postmaterialists minus % Materialists 
by Age Cohorts and Year – 4 Items Index

Postmaterialists and Materialists by Age Cohorts in Argentina 1984-2013
Source: Jorge, José Eduardo. 2015, September. “Los Jóvenes y la Cultura Política Argentina.» Paper presented at the I Congreso Comunicación Popular (CCP), UNLP-FPyCS, La Plata (Argentina). Own calculations from the World Values Survey database. N = 6.400. Click on the image to enlarge

Figure 2
Postmaterialists, Materialists and Mixed in Argentina % of Population – 4 Items Index

Postmaterialism in Argentina Percentage of Population 1984-2013
Source: José Eduardo Jorge. 2016. Own calculations from the World Values Survey database. N = 6.400. Click on the image to enlarge

Although the small number of cases for each cohort and year may produce fluctuations in the percentages due to sampling error, the trends of postmaterialism that we can track among Argentines follow the predictions of the theory. The graph reflects three types of effects: «cohort effects,» caused by generational change; «life cycle effects» (possible changes in postmaterialism / materialism as people age), and «period effects,» related to situational changes in postmaterialism due to economic, political or social events.

Even if some of the cohort’s lines of the figure cross at times, the 1970-1979 cohort is more postmaterialistic across the period than the people born in 1950-1959. The path followed by the latter group is also above the curve of the 1940-1949 cohort, which evolves, at the same time, over the 1930-1939 group. The Argentines born in 1920-1929 are in turn below the latter. The 1960-1969 cohort is more postmaterialistic than any other group until 1995, but then falls below the 1970-1979 and 1950-1959 lines.

Cohort effects are superimposed in Figure 1 onto those of the life cycle. Aging effects are clearly shown by the fact that the 1970-1979 and 1980-1989 cohorts only became more postmaterialistic than older Argentines several years after they entered the sample. People born from 1990 to 1999 appear just in 2013 (black square in the graph), almost at the same level as the previous two cohorts.

Cohorts move throughout the period accompanying periodic effects in unison. In 1995 and 1999, which were part of a period characterized by very low inflation rates, a situation that Argentines rarely experienced in their modern history, postmaterialists in total population (dotted line in the graph) exceeded temporarily the number of materialists.

Inglehart developed a more refined 12-Items postmaterialist values index, which adds the following country’s goals to the four ones already mentioned: high economic growth, strong defense forces, taking into account the opinion of people at work and communities, beautiful cities and landscapes, a stable economy, fighting against crime, a more humane society, and progress toward a society in which ideas count more than money (Inglehart, 1997, pp.108-30). The resulting index is a quantitative scale from 0 to 5. The respondents can be classified as “high” postmaterialists when their index score range from 3 to 5. We can distinguish a “middle” category (scores 1 and 2) and pure materialists (zero).

Figure 3
% High Postmaterialists minus % Pure Materialists by Age Cohorts and Year – 12 Items Index

Postmaterialists in Argentina by Age Cohorts 1991-2013
Source: José Eduardo Jorge. 2016. Own calculations from the World Values Survey database. N = 5.400. Click on the image to enlarge

Figure 4
High Postmaterialists and Pure Materialists in Argentina % of Population – 12 Items Index

Postmaterialists in Argentina Percentage of Population 1991-2013
Source: José Eduardo Jorge. 2016. Own calculations from the World Values Survey database. N = 5.400. Click on the image to enlarge

The difference between the percentages of high postmaterialists and pure materialists within each age cohort in this quantitative index also follows a regular pattern (Figure 3 and Table A2 in the Annex). Compared with the results from the 4-items index, the relative position of each cohort in the new graph only shows small changes. Short-term effects are obvious in both figures. The second one reflects as well the decline of postmaterialism, which is congruent with the theoretical predictions, after the deep economic and social crisis in 2001-2002: high postmaterialists in the total population decrease from 57 percent in 1995 to 34 percent in 2013 (Figure 4).

Our hypotheses also allow us to predict that these generational patterns will be accompanied by systematic differences in other socio-demographic variables. We expect that postmaterialism, as a product of economic development, will be higher in the more urbanized or modernized regions of the country.

According to our own Regional Surveys and data on the subdivisions of Argentina available from the World Values Survey database (Figure 5 and Table A3), we find the lowest levels of postmaterialism in the Interior of Argentina. This subdivision corresponds to the WVS subsample that is representative of the provinces outside the densely populated Metropolitan Area, which comprises the City of Buenos Aires and its vast urban sprawl known as Greater Buenos Aires.

Two cities with little less than 100,000 inhabitants surveyed in our own Regional studies, Junín and Pergamino, join the Interior as the most materialistic zones included in the analysis. Located in the agricultural Northwestern region of the Province of Buenos Aires, [1] both communities are characterized by dynamic economies based on the intensive cultivation of soya.

Nevertheless, our Interior category involves a highly heterogeneous subsample of regions and cities that account for almost 70 percent of Argentine population. Levels of postmaterialism surely present marked variations within this whole. An example is the city of La Plata, which was also part of our Regional studies.

Figure 5
% Postmaterialist minus % Materialists by Argentine Regions – 4 Items Index

Postmaterialism in Argentina by Regions of the Country
Source: Jorge, José Eduardo. 2015, September. “Los Jóvenes y la Cultura Política Argentina.” Paper presented at the I Congreso Comunicación Popular (CCP), UNLP-FPyCS. La Plata (Argentina). Own Regional Surveys and own calculations from the World Values Survey database. Ns: District of La Plata 2013 = 360 cases; Greater La Plata 2008 = 400 cases; City of Pergamino 2011 = 400 cases; City of Junín 2010 = 400 cases; City of Bs. As. 2006 = 400 cases; City of Buenos Aires 2013 (WVS) = cases 95; Greater Bs. As. Districts 2006 (WVS) = 245 cases; Greater Bs. As. Districts 2013 (WVS) = 390 cases; Interior of Argentina 2006 (WVS) = 660 cases; Interior of Argentina 2013 (WVS) = 515 cases. Click on the image to enlarge

The City of Buenos Aires – the most affluent and cosmopolitan area of Argentina – and the district of La Plata, capital of the Province of Buenos Aires and a major center of higher education, show the highest degrees of postmaterialism among the regions examined.

The Greater Buenos Aires Districts encompasses twenty four “partidos” (counties) surrounding the City of Buenos Aires. They amount to ten million inhabitants and contain large low-income neighborhoods and shanty towns. This complex urban conurbation tends to fall in a middle position on our measure of postmaterialism in Figure 5.

Postmaterialism rises with education and income. In 2013, according to the 12-items index, 47 percent of Argentines with complete or incomplete higher education were postmaterialists. The figure fell to 32 percent among people who only completed high school, and to this same percentage in the group with incomplete secondary education or less.

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Inglehart, Ronald, & Welzel, Christian. (2005). Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Inglehart, Ronald. (1997). Modernization and Postmodernization. Cultural, Economic, and Political Change in Forty-Three Societies. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Inglehart, Ronald. (1990). Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jorge, José Eduardo. (2010). Cultura Política y Democracia en Argentina. La Plata: Edulp.

Jorge, José Eduardo. (2016). Teoría de la Cultura Política. Enfocando el Caso Argentino. Question, 49, 300-321.

Jorge, José Eduardo. (2015). La Cultura Política Argentina: una Radiografía. Question, 48, 372-403.


[1] The City of Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina, while the Province of Buenos Aires, from which the former was separated in the later nineteenth century, is the most populated of the 23 provinces of the country. The Greater Buenos Aires districts are administratively part of the Province of Buenos Aires, but, as any conurbation, they are closely linked to the main city. Therefore, the City of Buenos Aires and the Greater Buenos Aires districts are often considered for analytical purposes a single Metropolitan Area, which represents 32 percent of Argentine population. The Province of Buenos Aires – including the 24 Greater Buenos Aires districts – accounts for almost 39 percent of the population of the country. The City of Buenos Aires has slightly less than 3 million inhabitants, while the “partido” or district of La Plata – capital city and adjacent towns and neighborhoods – has 650,000 inhabitants. The Greater La Plata Region includes the district of La Plata and two neighboring cities, Berisso and Ensenada, with 88,000 and 57,000 inhabitants respectively.