Modernization theories contrast traditional and advanced societies. In the former, religion and group identification – the identification with the ethnicity or the nation in particular – are means of integration and sources of happiness. Technological and economic developments undermine this base of mechanical solidarity and bring out individualism, self-expression and autonomy as new values. Happiness is now reached, if the autonomous citizen can successfully realize her/his goals. As theories of individualism and collectivism typically regard independence and autonomy as values of the individualistic cultural frame, it should be lower in those societies where collectivism is still prevalent. This would explain why happiness is relatively low in Japan.
The first sections of the paper show that the key variable of these theories – i.e., the sense of autonomy – is not only logically distinct from independence and individualism but also empirically uncorrelated with indicators of the latter concepts. Furthermore, autonomy increases at best weakly with modernization. Though it does not meet the assumptions of modernization theories, autonomy is nevertheless a strong predictor of life satisfaction. The positive influence of religion and national identification, by contrast, is relatively weak. The low sense of autonomy can explain the level of life satisfaction in Japan fairly well.
© Walter de Gruyter
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