Mapping cultural tightness and its links to innovation, urbanization, and happiness across 31 provinces in China

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Apr 2;116(14):6720-6725. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1815723116. Epub 2019 Mar 4.


We conduct a 3-y study involving 11,662 respondents to map cultural tightness-the degree to which a society is characterized by rules and norms and the extent to which people are punished or sanctioned when they deviate from these rules and norms-across 31 provinces in China. Consistent with prior research, we find that culturally tight provinces are associated with increased governmental control, constraints in daily life, religious practices, and exposure to threats. Departing from previous findings that tighter states are more rural, conservative, less creative, and less happy, cultural tightness in China is associated with urbanization, economic growth, better health, greater tolerance toward the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community, and gender equality. Further, analyzing about 3.85 million granted patents in China (1990-2013), we find that provinces with tighter cultures have lower rates of substantive/radical innovations yet higher rates of incremental innovations; individuals from culturally tighter provinces reported higher levels of experienced happiness.

Keywords: China; creativity; culture; innovation; norms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • China
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Happiness*
  • Humans
  • Inventions*
  • Male
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities*
  • Urbanization*