Thursday, October 1, 2015


I concluded my last post by saying that Americans were relatively conservative on "moral" issues.  This wasn't based on any specific piece of research, just an impression that I'd formed, so I did some more systematic analysis using the 2005-9 World Values Survey.  The WVS has a series of questions about whether various things can "never be justified," "always be justified," or something in between.  I constructed a scale based on opinions about homosexuality, prostitution, abortion, divorce, ending the life of an incurably ill person, and suicide.  To limit the comparison to roughly similar nations, I used only nations in the OECD plus Taiwan.  I show a scatterplot of scores (higher values mean more conservative) versus log of per-capita GDP.

As often happens, things are more complicated than I had remembered them.  The United States is indeed conservative relative to its economic development (or something that's highly correlated with economic development, perhaps education), but it's not as exceptional as I'd thought.  The biggest outlier is Italy.  You could say that's because of the historical influence of the Catholic church, but Spain is also in the sample and it doesn't stand out at all.  But for whatever reason, Italy stands out.  Since my last post was an attempt to explain the nature of American conservatism, this suggests that if I'm right, there should be similarities to Italian conservatism.  I know very little about recent Italian conservatism, but given the example of Silvio Berlusconi, I hope I'm wrong.


  1. Could you post or send me the scatterplot showing the other countries in the sample? There must be some correlation to something!

    1. I have included the country names in the figure now--see above.