Collectivist vs. Individualist

|Author: Kayla|

Age 26. A woman must be married to a man. Often this marriage is arranged.

When I asked Ananya, a 25 year-old intern, what would happen if she defied this rule, she responded that it would be disrespectful towards her parents.

I was puzzled. I had assumed that Ananya was referring to a mandated law not an expectation created by society. 

Ananya continued to explain that her entire career and education (including a masters in engineering) would soon become pointless because her time was almost up. 

I felt a knot in my stomach. Throughout all of the time I have spent trying to assess what kind of job I want to have, I have neglected to recognize how privileged I am to even have the freedom to choose a career or education over being married.  In the United States, when an individual turns 18, s/he is declared a legal adult— she is able to vote, join the military, get a tattoo, buy a lottery ticket, etc. Eighteen years old marks the age that individuals often begin to live independently. 

When someone turns 18 in India, s/he may begin college, but s/he generally continues to live with her/his family. After I first realized this distinction between these two cultures, I assumed it must be attributed to what age someone is considered a legal adult in each country. However, after turning to google, I learned that India too considers an 18-year-old a legal adult.

What causes someone to surrender their goals in order to appease their parents? What causes the disparity of expectations between cultures? Could this variation in roles be a result of being a member of a collectivistic vs. individualistic society?

The act of valuing one’s family’s wishes over his/her own aligns perfectly with the collectivist viewpoint of “emphasiz[ing] the needs and goals of the group as a whole over the needs and desires of each individual” (Cherry, 2019). This term also parallels with the idea of biological altruism, or when an organism behaves in a way which has a fitness cost to itself but benefits others. It is referred to as “self sacrificing behavior” and is known to be evolutionarily beneficial (Freeman et al., 2017).

In the end, I realize we really are so much a product of our environment.

Works Cited:

Cherry, Kendra. “Understanding Collectivist Cultures.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 30 Sept. 2019,

Freeman, Scott. Biological Science. Pearson Education, 2017.

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