A Comparison of the Rokeach Value Survey (Rvs) in China and the United States

ABSTRACT - This study investigated Chinese personal values using the Rokeach Value Survey (RVS). Results suggested that Chinese personal values as measured by the RVS were different from those obtained from the U.S. Specific differences and their implications for Chinese consumer behavior were investigated.


Zhengyuan Wang, C. P. Rao, and Angela D'Auria (1994) ,"A Comparison of the Rokeach Value Survey (Rvs) in China and the United States", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. Joseph A. Cote and Siew Meng Leong, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 185-190.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1994      Pages 185-190


Zhengyuan Wang, University of Arkansas

C. P. Rao, Old Dominion University

Angela D'Auria, Old Dominion University


This study investigated Chinese personal values using the Rokeach Value Survey (RVS). Results suggested that Chinese personal values as measured by the RVS were different from those obtained from the U.S. Specific differences and their implications for Chinese consumer behavior were investigated.


In recent years, one of the most dynamic areas of research in social science disciplines, including consumer behavior has been the measurement and functions of personal values (Pitts and Woodside 1984; Kamakura and Mazzon 1991). The pervasive role of values in all aspects of human life (Rokeach 1973) has motivated myriads of empirical investigations of personal values in the disciplines of psychology, sociology, cultural anthropology, and consumer behavior.

Past research has shown that personal values could be both a powerful explanation of and influence on a variety of individual and collective behaviors, including consumer consumption behavior (e.g., Henry 1976; Vinson and Munson 1976; Pitts and Woodside 1983; Schopphoven 1991), political attitude and behavior (Levine 1960; Baum 1968; Tetlock 1986), gift-giving behavior (Beatty et al. 1991) and cross-cultural differences (e.g., Munson and McIntyre 1978, 1979; Schwartz and Bilsky 1987, Grunert and Scherhorn 1990).

Several ways are available to measure personal values. Among the most frequently used instruments for measuring values are the Rokeach Value Survey (RVS) (Rokeach 1973), the Values and Lifestyles (VALS) methodology developed at SRI International (Mitchell 1983), and the List of Values (LOV) developed at the University of Michigan Survey Research Center (Kahle 1983; Veroff, Douvan, and Kulka 1981).

There has been an on-going debate over the predictive utility associated with each of the value instruments (Beatty, et al. 1985; Kahle, et al. 1986; Munson and McQuarrie 1988; Novak and MacEvoy 1990). So far, no conclusive empirical evidence has yet been reached.

Values provide clues about how a society operates because values are individual's representation of a society's goals (Beatty, et al. 1988). Values should thus be a central topic for cross-cultural research (Berrien 1966; Zavaloni 1980). Unfortunately, most previous attempts to develop cross-cultural value measures relevant to consumption have not been particularly productive due to conceptual differences between personal values and consumer consumption behavior (Munson 1984).

The present study attempts to examine the predictive utility of the most widely used value instrument, the Rokeach Value Survey (RVS), in the context of Chinese culture.


Personal Values

Rokeach (1973, p.5) defined a personal value as an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end-state of existence is personally or socially preferable to its opposite. A value system is an enduring organization of beliefs concerning preferred modes of conduct or end-states along an importance continuum. Two kinds of values-instrumental and terminal-were defined as a person's beliefs concerning desirable modes of conduct and desirable end-states of existence respectively (Rokeach 1973, p.7).

Grunert and Scherhorn (1990) identified five features of personal values. Values were described as 1) concepts or beliefs, 2) about desirable behaviors and/or end states, 3) that go beyond specific situations, 4) guide the selection or evaluation of events and behaviors, and 5) are ordered by a certain hierarchical importance.

The conceptualization of personal values in terms of social adaptation theory (Kahle, et al. 1980; Kahle 1983, 1984; Kahle & Timmer 1983; Piner & Kahle 1984) posited that personal values are the most abstract type of social cognitions that function to facilitate adaptation to one's environment. The concept of regarding personal values as mediators in the social adaptation process implies that value differences between cultures can be traced back to different ethnic background and the social, economic, political, and technological environments.

Cross-Cultural Value Research

Due in part to the growing importance of the emerging global economy, cross-cultural value research has received greater attention during the last decade. International research on values can provide needed cross-cultural understanding of consumers. However, since values are culturally derived and determined, value instruments such as the RVS will in all probability exhibit heterogeneity across different cultures and subcultures (Munson and McQuarrie 1988).

Although Rokeach (1973, 1979) suggested that the RVS could be applicable to other Western countries, this proposition remains relatively untested. Using Kahle's (1983) LOV, Grunert and Scherhorn (1990) compared consumer values in West Germany with results from surveys in the United States (Kahle 1983), Canada (Muller 1989), and Norway (Kahle et al. 1989). They found considerable cross-cultural differences in values that were of substantial nature (i.e., due to differences in the political, economic, social, and cultural environments) as well as of semantic nature.

Hence, the main objective of the study reported here was to apply Rokeach's (1973) RVS to Chinese consumers and to compare the results with those obtained from the U.S. (Rokeach 1973; Vinson, Munson, and Nakanishi 1977).


To guide the research design and data analyses of the present study, the following research hypothesis was derived from the preceding theoretical discussions and empirical findings.

Personal values measured by the RVS in China differ from those obtained from the U.S. due to differences in social, economic, political, and cultural environments between the two countries.


Research Instrument & Data Collection

The data used to test the research hypotheses resulted from personal interviews with pre-designed questionnaires. Data collection was undertaken respectively in two major Chinese cities: Beijing and Shanghai. No attempt was made to select the sample on a purely random basis. Rather, care was exercised in collecting a representative cross section of the wide spectrum of the target population.

The questionnaire had four sections. The first section contained 23 Likert scales, measuring respondents' agreement to different dimensions of the respondents' shopping and consumption behavior. The second section contained 18 Rokeach instrumental value scales. The third section contained perceived attribute importance (ranging from 23 to 30 attributes) in four product categories. These product categories included clothing, household appliances, household supplies, and food (fresh and unprepared). Respondents were asked to indicate on a 7-point rating scale the importance they attached to each of the product attributes, with 7 being most important and 1 being least important. The last section contained questions on respondents' gender, age, education level and occupation. For this research effort, only the data generated from the second section using the 18 Rokeach instrumental values were utilized.

The original version of the Rokeach Value Survey consisted of 18 instrumental values or ideal modes of conduct and 18 terminal values or ideal end-states of existence that were rank ordered in terms of their importance as guiding principles of the respondent's life. To facilitate the ranking task, each value was contained on a pressure sensitive gummed label and respondents were instructed to re-arrange the labels until the best ordering of the relative importance of each value was achieved (Rokeach 1973).

The major limitations of the original version of the RVS include: 1) subjects are forced to rank one value at the expense of another which may actually be equally important to them, 2) the presentation of the 36 value items may exceed the respondent's ability to accurately process information and thus distort the ranking procedure (Miller 1956), 3) the ranking nature of the data precludes the use of a wide variety of useful statistical analysis techniques that might otherwise be used (Munson and McIntyre 1979; Vinson et al. 1977; Rankin and Grube 1980).

To overcome these problems, a number of researchers have modified the RVS instrument to yield an interval measure of value importance (Moore 1975; Munson and McIntyre 1979; Rankin and Grube 1980; Miethe 1985). The present study employed such a modified RVS. Seven-point rating scales were used for assessing the importance of the 18 instrumental values, with 7 being most important and 1 being least important.

The questionnaire was translated into Chinese by a doctoral student from China who was studying business administration at a Western university. The translated questionnaire was then reviewed by a panel consisting of another Chinese doctoral student and one of the authors whose mother tongue is Chinese. Both the English and Chinese versions of the questionnaire were pre-tested on convenience samples.

Altogether 196 usable questionnaires were obtained in which 101 came from Beijing and 95 obtained from Shanghai. Since interviews were generally conducted during tea breaks or leisure time, respondents had sufficient time to think and answer the questions carefully. As a result, the response rate was quite high, reaching about 85 percent.

Analysis Procedures

To test the research hypothesis, which postulates that personal values measured by the RVS in China differ from those obtained from the U.S., a principal components factor analysis with varimax rotation using the criterion of eigenvalues greater than one (Kaiser 1958) was performed on the importance ratings of the 18 Rokeach instrumental value items. The resulting underlying factor structure was then compared with the results of a similar survey conducted in the U.S. (Vinson et al. 1977).

Rokeach (1973) has been able to differentiate people in terms of their race, sex, religion, occupation, political ideology, and a variety of other characteristics in the U.S. on the basis of their value orientations. Multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted for each of the demographic variables to see whether Chinese respondents can be differentiated in terms of their gender, age, eduction, and occupation on the basis of their value orientations.

In principal, MANOVA is similar to univariate ANOVA but is concerned with the detection of overall differences rather than the differences attributable to each of the individual criterion variable. If MANOVA detects statistically significant overall group separation, the analysis proceeds to the examination of univariate F-ratios (ANOVA) for each criterion variable.


Comparison of Instrumental Values: China vs. the U.S.

The aggregate results from the RVS in China are summarized and compared with results from the U.S. in Table 1. The Cronbach coefficient alpha estimate of reliability for the 18 Rokeach instrumental values was 0.86, indicating a high degree of internal consistency of the construct.

Consistent with our first hypothesis, the comparison shown in Table 1 reveals some sizeable value differences between the two countries. While being honest, ambitious, and responsible have been consistently shown as the most important instrumental values in the U.S. (see Rokeach and Ball-Rokeach 1989 for a more detailed discussion), being cheerful, polite, and independent appear to be the most important values in China.

The distinctive Chinese values of being cheerful and polite can be explained by the traditional doctrine of Confucianism, which is the foundation of the Chinese value system (Kluckhohn and Strodbeck 1961). According to Confucius, being cheerful is a way for an individual to achieve internal harmony and to be polite is to be human (Yau 1988). Being independent, on the other hand, may reflect both the orthodox ideology of Marxism in which self sufficiency is extolled and the growing influence of Western individualism.

Rokeach (1973) found statistically significant value differences between and among people of different race, sex, age, income, education, and other socio-demographic variables in the U.S. In order to test whether there exists any value difference between and among the Chinese respondents of different demographic characteristics, multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted for each of the demographic variables: 1) gender, 2) age, 3) education, 4) occupation, and 5) area of the respondents.

The overall MANOVA tests were all nonsignificant at the 0.05 level except for education, indicating that respondents with different gender, age, occupation, and the area in which they lived placed no statistically significant levels of importance on the set of 18 Rokeach instrumental values. Since the overall tests were nonsignificant, no post hoc univariate ANOVA tests would be needed.

MANOVA results, shown in Table 2, indicate that an overall group difference over the entire set of 18 instrumental values was present (p < 0.05). Consequently, the analysis proceeded to the examination of the univariate ANOVA tests. By examining results of the follow-up univariate ANOVA tests and the respective mean values for each group, one can identify those individual instrumental value items where differences were detected and which group expressed a higher level of importance.







Self-control was the value where the greatest difference was found. Multiple pairwise comparisons using Bonferroni t tests indicated that respondents with secondary and university education appeared to regard self-control as more important than those with primary education.

Being capable and responsible also had statistically significant group differences at the 0.05 level. Bonferroni t tests showed that they were viewed as less important by respondents with primary education than by those with higher level of education.

Forgiving and polite were the remaining two values where Bonferroni t tests detected statistically significant pairwise group differences. Respondents with secondary school education attached more importance to being forgiving than those with primary school education; they also placed more importance on being polite than those with post-secondary education.

It is worth noting that no pairwise group difference was found for loving and obedient using Bonferroni t test, although their univariate ANOVA F tests were statistically significant at 0.05 level.

Since education has been found by a great deal of sociological research to be a better indicator of social status than some other socio-economic variables such as income (Rokeach 1973), our findings seem to confirm that values are, in turn, social indicators of educational differences.

To further test the hypothesis, a principal components factor analysis with varimax rotation using the criterion of eigenvalues greater than one was performed on the importance ratings of the 18 Rokeach instrumental values. The results are presented in Table 3.

Vinson, Munson, and Nakanishi (1977) conducted a Rokeach value survey in the U.S. using the same seven-point importance rating scale. The results of their factor analysis of the 18 instrumental values are provided in Table 4.

An examination of the results contained in Tables 3 and 4 indicates that the underlying factor structures between China and the U.S. were not the same. While five factors were extracted for the Chinese respondents, only four factors were obtained for the American sample. In addition to the three underlying dimensions of integrity, competence, and sociality, which were similar to those in the U.S., the Chinese respondents seemed to possess two somewhat unique underlying values: aspiration and morality. These findings seem to support our hypothesis.


Several limitations that could be explored in future studies are worth noting. First, the present study has examined personal values in China based on a relatively small, and by no means, representative sample of the general population in China. Hence, caution must be exercised in generalizing the findings of this study beyond the sample used, which was drawn from people living in two large Chinese cities, Beijing and Shanghai.



Second, the present study has used a modified RVS instrument that requires rating rather than ranking. Such scales have been found to be more susceptible to response styles and social desirability effects (Rokeach 1973; Alwin and Krosnick 1985; Kamakura and Mazzon 1991). Besides, this study has investigated only the Rokeach instrumental values. It would be interesting for future research to examine the Rokeach terminal values and Kahle's (1983) LOV which is considered better than the RVS in its predictive utility (Beatty et al. 1985).


Research on personal values has been gaining momentum during the last few years. The present study has examined Chinese personal values using the most widely used value instrument, the Rokeach Value Survey (RVS). The results indicated that there existed differences in personal values between China and the U.S. due to apparent differences in social, economic, political, and cultural environments between the two nations.


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Zhengyuan Wang, University of Arkansas
C. P. Rao, Old Dominion University
Angela D'Auria, Old Dominion University


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1994

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