In detail

Individualism in the society of the 21st century

Individualism in the society of the 21st century

Are we increasingly a more individualized society? Are we increasingly selfish? Is the achievement of success, power, fame and wealth leading us to an atrocious individualism? It is increasingly common to observe behaviors directed towards the achievement of their own successes, regardless of the welfare of others.. Social norms are unimportant and only advocates for individual success. Moreover, this type of excessive individualism is better seen since for many it is synonymous with someone fighting. What is behind this phenomenon? Let's go deeper!


  • 1 Individualism: the reflection of a competitive society
  • 2 Work, social class and individualism
  • 3 The cult of self

Individualism: the reflection of a competitive society

Individualism is the tendency of each to act according to their own thoughts and convictions, regardless of social norms. However, it is convenient to keep in mind that acting in this individual way could be an indicator of a new social normal that rewards this attitude. That is to say, Is individualism a new social norm? Is this behavior fashionable? Can you act outside of society following their patterns and trends?

But where does this upward trend come from? We have settled in a mercantilist society where we are worth what we produce, and what we produce is usually translated in economic terms. Nowadays it is not enough to have a job with which to live well, but we are bombarded with messages that we should have the best possible job, the highest salary, have the largest house and the highest-end car possible. These are some examples of the messages that modern society transmits to us, where money and power have become undisputed protagonists.

To achieve these goals, a prominent message has also been disseminated that advocates for the independence of each of us. However, it is not a healthy independence, that is, in which we can maintain ourselves; but of one Ravenous independence, which leads us to not depend on anyone to achieve our goals. "I must be more than anyone", is what is installed in our mind since we are little. Thus, instead of cooperating, there is a situation of competition between individuals in which individualism is encouraged. What is hidden behind this posture? A study led by Igor Grossmann throws some light at us.

Work, social class and individualism

A research team from the University of Waterloo (Canada) and the Arizona State University (United States) thoroughly investigated the rise of individualism. This team, led by Igor Grossmann, published the article in 2015 "Social structure, infectious diseases, disasters, secularism and cultural change in America", in which they present the results found. According to the research findings, The most likely cause of this growing individualism is "office jobs".

The researchers analyzed six cultural factors related to individualism: Infectious diseases, natural disasters, climate, religiosity, urbanization of inhabited areas and socioeconomic structure. They also analyzed other related indicators:

  1. Vocabulary used in books: individualistic words, collective words and individualistic words less collective words.
  2. Cultural practices: only name versus names composed in boys and girls.
  3. Interpersonal structure: marriage and divorce, people living alone, family size, families of one child or several children, homes of three generations or one generation and older people living alone.


After analyzing the results of the different markers potentially causing the increase in individualism, highlighted the social class (socioeconomic structure), directly related to liberal or office work. They found that social class is the only marker that precedes changes in individualism throughout this century. This type of work leaves behind those of a more cooperative, more characteristic of the working class.

Igor Grossmann's team points out that this phenomenon is not modern, but has been on the rise for at least 150 years. They emphasize that since 1860 families are smaller as well as the increase in "individualistic vocabulary" such as freedom, liberalism, agency or individual. They also show the decline of the twenty most frequent names among newborns. This data suggests that families flee from tradition and seek more the special, the outstanding.

The cult of self

The "cult of self" has become a harmful position. It should be remembered that being well with oneself is essential to be well with others. Nevertheless, the most harmful "cult of self" comes into play when we only import. That is, when we put our interests above others, giving the consequences the same. Through this thought, we observe how large companies, led by a single man or several, destroy natural landscapes with the sole purpose of earning large sums of money.

The consequences of our actions are indifferent as long as we benefit directly. Office work has individualized us so much that only the results matter; The more money and the more power, the better. This type of work has locked us in ourselves in search of the greatest possible success. The labor and economic maelstrom in which we are increasingly involved, leads us to an individualism that, instead of benefiting, ended up harming us. Why?

The reason is simple, load upon us goals and excessive demands. Thus, It is not surprising that depression and anxiety have been labeled as the leading psychological diseases of the twentieth century. We are driven to realize ideals so out of reach that frustration occurs in us that leads to anger, anxiety, stress, discomfort with ourselves and depression. That is why, so important to know that this individualism is just a way of seeing life.


  • Grossmann, I. and Varnum, M. (2015). Social structure, infectious diseases, disasters, secularism and cultural change in America.Psychological Science, 26 (3), 311-324.
  • Santos, H., Varnum, M., and Grossmann, I. (2017). Global Increases in Individualism. Psychological Science, 28 (9), 1228 -1239.