World Values Survey: Kazakhs and Americans

I’ve been taking a free course on statistical inference online, which mentioned the World Values Survey. For this survey, interviewers ask people about religious, political, sexual, community, and life values. I haven’t looked at whether sample size, selection, fear of interviewers, or bias may affect the results. I suspect there are some issues in that area: for instance, Kazakhs were asked if elections are fair and if officials take bribes, while Americans were not. However, it’s still a great survey to use for thinking about social values, especially if you’re already familiar with the cultures and histories involved.

Grandmother in Kazakhstan, by Scott Koch

Below, I’ve cherry-picked data and paraphrased liberally. “Lies, damn lies,” and all that… In other words, I’m listing a few interesting differences (e.g. 2/3 of Kazakhs think something, but only 1/2 of Americans agree). But in 500 other instances, Americans and Kazakhs agree rather closely. So please don’t cite these extracts until you look at the full data yourself!

Kazakh and American Perspectives on Life

What’s important in life? Kazakhstan America
Family is very important 92% 91%
Friends are very important 48% 54%
vs… Friends are not so important 12% 5%
Work is very important 62% 36%
Religion is very important 22% 40%

Kazakhs and Americans both value family strongly. Kazakhs are more willing to verbalize that work is important to life (perhaps because good careers are harder to find in a still-developing economy), while American culture leads us to say we value friends and religion just as much. As we’ll see below, religion is a more active part of family life inAmerica.

I think my health is… Kazakhstan America
Very good 14% 28%
Fair 33% 16%

Americans are more confident in their health, and perhaps have more disposable income to spend on healthcare and food.

Let’s teach kids at home about: Kazakhstan America
Hard work 85% 66%
Imagination 12% 31%
Religion 10% 43%
Self-expression 29% 18%

The fact that Americans value teaching children about imagination and religion, while Kazakh families teach children about hard work, is not a surprise. What does surprise me is the higher priority on teaching children self-expression in Kazakhstan: perhaps this is an aspect of the way young children are cherished and openly celebrated in Kazakhstan?

Russian girl in Kazakhstan, by Coryn Wolk

I’m an active member of a: Kazakhstan America
Religious group 3% 35%
Sport group 4% 15%
Labor union 2% 7%
Political party 2% 15%
Professional group 2% 12%
Charity group 2% 16%

As I’ve noted on social networks, Astana residents are less involved in civic groups than Americans; high religious participation is worrisome, especially among the young. Kazakhs clean the neighborhood (subbotniks) or attend elections when ordered to by boss or other leader, so maybe the fact that community is a duty makes it less likely for people to volunteer? I’d also be curious to see how class matches participation: when affluent Americans volunteer, middle-class people join civic groups to improve their own status. If rich Kazakhs don’t volunteer in their communities, it’s unlikely that middle class people will do so. 

I feel strongly that: Kazakhstan America
I’m a world citizen 30% 21%
I’m part of my local community 14% 25%

Tied to this (and mind that I’m focused on only ‘strongly agree’ and ignoring ‘agree/disagree/strongly disagree’ here), Kazakhs are more likely to focus internationally, while Americans may feel a greater sense of community locally than internationally.

Not in my backyard: Kazakhstan America
Druggies 93% 88%
Other races 11% 6%
People with AIDS 60% 13%
Immigrants 28% 14%
Gay people 74% 20%
Other religions 12% 3%
Other languages 11% 13%

Americans and Kazakhs openly don’t want drug addicts living in the neighborhood. Few people openly say they don’t want people of other races, religions, or languages around. Kazakh society allows people to be significantly more negative towards gay people and people with AIDS; your visa can actually be revoked as a foreigner if you get AIDS in Kazakhstan!

Not enough jobs? Give them to: Kazakhstan America
Men (not women) 45% 6%
Citizens (not foreigners) 77% 50%

I wonder if Americans think of foreigners as more highly skilled Indians and Chinese, or if we’re less worried because we have more jobs. Kazakhs may be more apt to think of menial workers from Uzbekistan or Turkey who directly take away work from the average man.  

I agree/strongly agree that: Kazakhstan America
It’s a problem if women earn more 26% 12%
Men make better political leaders 50% 19%
Men make better business executives 52% 12%

Here I’d be interested to go back to the World Values website and compare changes in American opinion over time.

On loyalty: Kazakhstan America
I’d fight for my country 77% 58%
My goal is to make my parents proud 92% 77%
It’s good to respect authority more 54% 55%

More patriotism on the part of Kazakhs… is this because Soviet Kazakhstan recruited women soldiers as often as men, while America emphasizes national defense as a male duty? I also find it surprising that a desire for more respect of authority is almost equal in both populations.

Kazakhs in China, by Tian Yake

The biggest world problem is: Kazakhstan America
Poverty 63% 53%
Lack of education 8% 19%
Environmental pollution 14% 10%

Citizens of both countries see poverty as an overwhelming concern worldwide; Americans are more concerned to improve education (probably because we believe it’s a “magic bullet” that will improve everything else) while Kazakhs experience pollution as a more pressing issue.

On activism: Kazakhstan America
I’ve signed a petition before 2% 60%
I’ve joined a boycott before 1% 16%
I’ve attended a peaceful demonstration before 6% 14%
I might attend a peaceful demonstration 18% 55%
I’d never attend a peaceful demonstration 76% 30% 

Americans are much more confident that they may express political views publicly and without cost. We’re used to signing petitions. Kazakhs are much more wary about crossing the powers that be. Note that ‘peaceful demonstration’ was specified in this question.

I think… Kazakhstan America
We need more private industry 7% 23%
We need more state ownership 24% 2%

(Note: I’m pulling 1 and 10 off a ten-point likert scale. That means one of those pesky “do you agree, on a scale of 1-10?” questions). Excluding all the middle points, we’re seeing Americans who believe that privatization can fix things. Central Asians experienced post-Soviet privatization of state monopolies as a disaster, and put more trust in state ownership.

I believe… Kazakhstan America
The state should provide for us 31% 9%
People should provide for themselves 7% 18%

Another ten point scale. In Kazakhstan, a legacy of the Soviet Union, when state provision helped the elderly, the widows, the orphans, and the poor much more effectively than today’s market economy. In America, the ideology of bootstraps.

On a ten-point scale:  Kazakhstan America
Hard work will get me a better life 22% 20%
Luck and connection get a better life 11% 4%

A fifth of Americans and Kazakhs agree that hard work gets you places. 11% of Kazakhs think connections are most important, and 35% of Kazakhs think connections are more important, but not absolutely. Open use of connections is much more likely to get you a good job in Kazakhstan. In America, it has to be more subtle.

. Kazakhstan America
I trust my family = completely 93% 69%
I trust my neighborhood = completely 24% 8%
I trust the press = a great deal 10% 2%
i trust the TV = a great deal 15% 2%
I trust the state = a great deal 26% 4%
I trust universities = a great deal 15% 10%
I trust big companies = a great deal 10% 3%
I trust charities = a great deal 13% 10%

We see strong trust in Kazakh families, while Americans are more skeptical about their kin. In fact, Americans are quite a bit more skeptical in general.

Kazakh eagle hunter, by Jack Dyson

It’s essential for democracy to: Kazakhstan America
Tax the rich 26% 7%
Provide unemployment aid 38% 12%
Ensure civil rights 37% 32%
Ensure equal income 29% 4%

Again, these are the 10s on a 10 point scale. Kazakhs and Americans both value civil rights, but Kazakhs are more likely to hope the government will intervene on painful issues of income inequality and unjust wealth.

…Interestingly, on the related question of ‘how democratically this country is being governed today,’ Americans and Kazakhs agreed almost exactly on every number on the ten-point scale (not at all, somewhat, very much). Whether or not our democracies are different, the percent of the population that believes their country is democratic is almost exactly the same!

Religion: Kazakhstan America
I’m a Muslim 50% 1%
I’m Orthodox 27%
I’m a Protestant 1% 24%
I’m a Catholic 1% 22%
I’m another religion/athiest 16%

Not surprising. Here for your reference.

. Kazakhstan America
I believe in God 89% 88%
I pray weekly or daily 24% 65%
I pray at services or on holy days only 31% 7%

Kazakhs and Americans are similarly likely to believe in God. However, the actual question for the next two statistics is,“ apart from weddings and funerals, how often do you pray?” Kazakhs are most likely to pray as part of a community–at weddings, funerals, religious services, or holy days. Americans are more likely to pray constantly and in private. Why does this question define prayer and religious participation by American values?

To stay safe, I… Kazakhstan America
Don’t carry lots of money 72% 54%
Don’t go out at night 70% 38%
Carry a weapon 4% 16%

I’ve been urged not to carry money on me or go out at night in Kazakhstan, regardless of actual danger. I know of no one in polite society who carries weapons there.

I’m very worried about… Kazakhstan America
Losing my job 43% 22%
Education for my kids 39% 16%
A war involving my country 44% 15%
Terrorist attacks 49% 18%
Civil War 42% 8%
The government watching me 16% 13%

On a four-point scale (very much, great deal, not much, not at all), it’s interesting that Kazakhs are much more likely to be worried for their family, economics, and about war. Did the post-Soviet chaos really make life in Kazakhstan feel that much more unstable? Are Americans just under pressure to ‘think positive’? Also f note: neither group worries about the government, although both governments actively monitor their citizens.

This year, sometimes or often my family has: Kazakhstan America
Not been able to get needed healthcare or medical treatments 12% 21%
Not been able to bring in cash income 39% 22%

Kazakh families are more likely to report trouble finding work, and American families to have trouble accessing healthcare. The quality of healthcare is not as high in Kazakhstan, but it is much less expensive for things like hospital visits.

It’s never justified for someone to: Kazakhstan America
Avoid paying a bus fare 38% 52%
Engage in homosexuality 67% 24%
Beat your wife 63% 85%
Be violent toward someone 74% 65%

Kazakhs are more likely to feel okay not paying a bus fare, although they don’t feel stealing is all right. Americans condemn wife and child beating quite strongly, but seem to think it’s more acceptable to be violent outside the family. Again, how much of this difference is just because we feel guilty saying something’s okay, and how much are these real cultural shifts in American values?

A kazakh wedding in panfilov park, by Lyalka

At home I speak… Kazakhstan America
Kazakh 46%
Russian 50%
English 89%
Spanish 8%

Kazakhstan has many Russians as well as Kazakhs; citizens claim to be split evenly as Kazakh and Russian speakers.

This interview was in… Kazakhstan America
Kazakh 23%
Russian 78%
English 94%
Spanish 6%

However, most of the interviews were led in Russian. If it’s the interviewee’s choice, it suggests that many ethnic Kazakhs aren’t really fluent in the Kazakh language, due to the strong use of Russian a generation ago.

I get my information from: Kazakhstan America
TV, daily 85% 59%
Mobile phone, daily 45% 28%
Email, daily 19% 36%
Internet, daily 24% 50%
Conversations, daily 65% 42%

One for the library and information scientists! Kazakhs rely heavily on TV news, personal socializing, and sending actual information via cell phone calls or SMS messages. Americans look for information online from strangers, which is a challenge for librarians who work primarily in person. Neither group gets as much information in person as they likely used to.

So… where are you getting your information? How involved are your countrymen in politics? Who believes in God in Zimbabwe? Find out more here:


  1. Wow, I m very impressed with your blog. Thanks a lot) it was quite interesting to compare values with Americans. Surprised how many fears and worries in kazn still.

    • Thanks! Yes, I thought maybe it’s many worries in Kazn. My father suggested perhaps it’s just that Americans don’t admit to themselves how worried they can be. So… interesting survey, but it leaves a lot unexplained!

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