There's a very interesting paper in last week's Science, Gelfand et al, Differences Between Tight and Loose Cultures: A 33-Nation Study (subscription/payment required). They constructed a new scale (using the questions above) designed to measure how uptight the culture of a given country was versus being loose and easygoing. They gave this survey to 6823 people in 33 countries and established that the scale was reasonably consistent (people within the country agree more-or-less on their country's value on the scale, but there is a reasonable degree of variation between different countries).
Here's a subset of their Table 1, showing a few values:
At least for me, this matches my prejudices about what kinds of places are easygoing, and what kinds of places are uptight.
Next, they studied correlations with a whole bunch of other variables:
Table S3 illustrates that nations that have encountered ecological and historical threats have much stronger norms and lower tolerance of deviant behavior. Tight nations have higher population density in the year 1500 (r = 0.77, P = 0.01), in the year 2000 in the nation (r = 0.31, P = 0.10), and in the year 2000 in rural areas (r = 0.59; P = 0.02), and also have a higher projected population increase (r = 0.40, P = 0.03). Tight nations have a dearth of natural resources, including a lower percentage of farmland (r = –0.37, P = 0.05), higher food deprivation (r = 0.52, P < 0.01), lower food supply and production (r = –0.36, P = 0.05, and –0.40, P = 0.03, respectively), lower protein and fat supply (rs = –0.41 and –0.46, Ps = 0.03 and 0.01), less access to safe water (r = –0.50, P = 0.01), and lower air quality (r = –0.44, P = 0.02), relative to loose nations. Tight nations face more disasters such as floods, tropical cyclones, and droughts (r = 0.47, P = 0.01) and have had more territorial threats from their neighbors during the period 1918–2001 (r = 0.41, P = 0.04). Historical prevalence of pathogens was higher in tight nations (r = 0.36, P = 0.05), as were the number of years of life lost to communicable diseases (r = 0.59, P < 0.01), the prevalence of tuberculosis (r = 0.61, P < 0.01), and infant and child mortality rates (rs = 0.42, P = 0.02, and 0.46, P= 0.01).So the picture that emerges is that places with a history of high population relative to resources, and/or a lot of external threats (hostile neighbors, natural disasters) are likely to develop a tight culture over time. This in turn predisposes them to more autocratic political systems and fewer civil rights.
Tightness-looseness is reflected in societal institutions and practices (table S3). Tight nations are more likely to have autocratic rule that suppresses dissent (r = 0.47, P = 0.01), less open media overall (r = –0.53, P < 0.01), more laws and regulations and political pressures and controls for media (rs = 0.37 to 0.62, Ps ≤ 0.05), and less access to and use of new communication technologies (r = –0.38, P = 0.04). Tight nations also have fewer political rights and civil liberties (rs = –0.50 and –0.45, Ps ≤ 0.01). Criminal justice institutions in tight nations are better able to maintain social control: There are more police per capita (r = 0.31, P = 0.12), stricter punishments (i.e., retention of the death penalty) (r = 0.60, P < 0.01), and lower murder rates and burglary rates (rs = –0.45 and –0.47, Ps < 0.01) and overall volume of crime (r = –0.37, P = 0.04). Tight nations are more religious, with more people attending religious services per week (r = 0.54, P < 0.01) and believing in the importance of god in life (r = 0.37, P < 0.05) (20). The percentage of people participating in collective actions (e.g., signing petitions, attending demonstrations) is much lower in tight nations (r = –0.40, P = 0.03), and more people report that they would never engage in such actions (r = 0.36, P = 0.05) in comparison to loose nations.
I expect that coming decades will be somewhat more difficult and stressful in developed countries than the last few decades for a variety of reasons: peaking of oil supplies, climate change, increasing competition from emerging economies, and increasing automation displacing lower skilled individuals from the labor force.
The analysis of this paper suggests that the response is likely to be for the cultures in these countries to slowly tighten - to become less tolerant of deviance, more autocratic, with less openness and weaker civil rights. This view is consistent with an analysis my friend Southsider1 did some time back arguing that the black death in Europe caused a strengthening of state institutions of control, and that peak oil might be similar.