Do Ethics Still Matter? Yes, Says Nationwide Survey of Young Americans

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Results of a national survey of 18-24 high school and college graduates on their attitudes and opinions toward ethics.

As high school and college graduates across the country get set to don their caps and gowns, the baby boomer generation can rest assured that they pass the torch to a young America with a strong sense of priorities and ethics. So says a new survey sponsored by author and ethics specialist, Jim Lichtman. 92% (or nine in ten respondents) of the 604 young adults aged 18-24 polled nationwide, many getting set to enter the workforce for the first time, overwhelmingly value honesty and integrity, saying they believe that doing the right thing is more important than getting ahead in their careers. The survey was conducted in April by Zogby International, with a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percentage points, and covered a broad range of ethical situations.

The survey noted that, despite a recent surge of ethics scandals in the media, 80% of respondents have not changed their own ethical behavior, and in fact 17% say they have become more responsible. The survey also revealed that respondents counted parents (by 69%) as the most important and influential role-models for ethical behavior in their lives. However, a number of those polled (67%) conceded that overall they felt their grandparents’ generation was more ethical.

“Ultimately, however, ethics is not about what we say or what we intend, it’s about what we do,” says Jim Lichtman. Given a choice between Loyalty and Honesty, almost half of those surveyed (43%) would compromise their integrity for the sake of a friend. Given a choice between having an unethical relationship within the company, 32% would disregard company rules. And, given the right circumstances, 46% would look the other way or encourage unethical sales tactics in order to meet sales needs. “Do ethics still matter? Clearly most 18-24 year-olds believe they do,” Lichtman says. “Yet, when values conflict many show a readiness to compromise.”

The author of the book What Do You Stand For? – Stories About Principles That Matter, a collection of positive ethical stories, Lichtman quotes respected ethicist Michael Josephson in noting that, ‘Ethics is having the character and the courage to do the right thing even when it costs more than we want to pay.’ “If we want to build long-term trusting relationships,” says Lichtman, “each of us should strive to make a stronger commitment to practice the kinds of ethical values many of our grandparents have lived by – honesty, integrity, loyalty, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.”

Jim Lichtman has been writing and speaking on ethics to corporations, associations and schools since 1995. His opinion pieces have appeared in the publications such as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune and the New York Times. His broadcast appearances include NPR’s All Things Considered, and CNN’s NewsNight with Aaron Brown. Lichtman’s first book was entitled, The Lone Ranger's Code of the West: An Action-Packed Adventure in Values and Ethics With the Legendary Champion of Justice. He resides in Santa Barbara, CA with his wife Caren.

What Do You Stand For?

Stories About Principles That Matter

Edited with Commentary by Jim Lichtman

Scribbler’s Ink

ISBN #: 0-9648591-1-4

$24.00 US

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