Cultural distance asymmetry in expatriate adjustment

Jan Selmer, Randy K CHIU, Oded Shenkar

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

    90 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose – The current literature implicitly assumes a symmetric impact of cultural distance (CD) on expatriate adjustment. By using distance as a predictor of adjustment, the literature has rendered the direction of the flow irrelevant: a US expatriate in Germany is presumed to face the same hurdle as a German expatriate in the USA. Not only is there no evidence to justify that suggestion, but logic and related findings suggest just the opposite. The aim of the present paper is to test the proposition that such impact is asymmetric, that is, the impact of CD is contingent on the direction of the assignment. Design/methodology/approach – Using a two-flow sample of US expatriates in Germany and German expatriates in the USA, we examine and compare the psychological and socio-cultural adjustment of each group of executives. Findings – Controlling for the length of assignment, we find that German expatriates in the USA were better adjusted, both socio-culturally and psychologically, than American expatriates in Germany. These results support the asymmetry hypothesis and call into question previous findings attesting to the relationship between CD and expatriate adjustment. Originality/value – The paper offers new insights into the concept of CD and the findings may amount to a potentially fundamental contribution to the literature with important implications for the theory and practice of international human resource management.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)150-160
    Number of pages11
    JournalCross Cultural Management: An International Journal
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2007

    Scopus Subject Areas

    • Cultural Studies
    • Sociology and Political Science

    User-Defined Keywords

    • Culture
    • Expatriates
    • Germany
    • United States of America


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