Josephson Institute’s Report Card on American Youth: 28% of High School Students Steal; 60% Cheat – Survey of 36,000 High School Students

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According to the Josephson Institute’s 2006 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, today’s young people reveal deeply entrenched habits of dishonesty. The report, released as part of National Character Counts. Week (October 15-21) reveals high rates of cheating, lying and theft.

when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.

According to the Josephson Institute’s 2006 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, today’s young people reveal deeply entrenched habits of dishonesty. The report, released as part of National Character Counts! Week (October 15-21) reveals high rates of cheating, lying and theft.

More than one in four (28 percent) of the 36,122 high school students surveyed admitted stealing from a store within the past year (32 percent males, 23 percent females). Twenty-three percent said they stole something from a parent or other relative; 81 percent confessed they lied to a parent about something significant and 39 percent said they lied to save money (47% males, 31% females).

Cheating in school continues to be rampant. A substantial majority (60 percent) cheated on a test during the past year (35% did so two or more times) and one in three (33 percent) said they used the internet to plagiarize an assignment.

As bad as these numbers are, it appears they understate the level of dishonesty exhibited by America’s youth as 27 percent confessed they lied on at least one or two questions on the survey. Experts agree that dishonesty on surveys usually is an attempt to conceal misconduct.

Despite these high levels of dishonesty, these same kids have a high self image of their ethics. A whopping 92 percent said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character and 74% said that “when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”

According to Michael Josephson, president and founder of the Institute and one of the nation’s top ethics experts, “The good news is that things aren’t getting any worse -- the 2006 results are almost identical to those reported in 2004 .The bad news is that unacceptably high rates of dishonesty have become the norm. It doesn’t bode well for the future that so many kids are entering the workforce to become the next generation of corporate executives and cops, politicians and parents, journalists, teachers, and coaches with the dispositions and skills of liars, cheaters and thieves.”

Following a benchmark survey in 1992, the Josephson Institute has conducted a national survey of the ethics of American youth every two years. Data was gathered through a national sample of public and private high schools.

This report addresses honesty and integrity and is the first based on the extensive data gathered. Additional reports will be issued in the ensuing months focusing on violence, drug use and other issues and analyzing the impact on values, attitudes and behavior of sports, religious convictions and other factors.

About the Josephson Institute of Ethics

The Josephson Institute of Ethics, a nonpartisan, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in Los Angeles, CA, created and administers the Character Counts! Coalition, a partnership of more than 700 educational and youth-serving organizations committed to improving the ethical quality of America’s young people through character education. Character Counts! is the nation’s most widely implemented approach to character education. Congress and most states have declared the third week in October National Character Counts! Week.

An extensive library of materials for teachers, parents, coaches and others interested in character education as well as transcripts of Michael Josephson’s daily radio commentaries are is available at no charge at http://www.charactercounts.org

2006 Josephson Institute Report Card

on the Ethics of American Youth: Part One – Integrity

Summary of Data

Attitudes about Ethics, Character and Trust

Young people are almost unanimous in saying that ethics and character are important on both a personal level and in business but they express very cynical attitudes about whether a person can be ethical and succeed.

·    Importance of Character and Trust. Virtually all high school students (98%) said “It’s important for me to be a person with good character” (Q1)

o    98% believe that “honesty and trust are essential in personal relationships” (Q6).

o    97% said “it’s important to me that people trust me.” (Q13).

o    83% say “It’s not worth it to lie or cheat because it hurts your character.” (Q14).

·    Ethics in the Workplace. Though their cynical attitudes about real world ethics has undoubtedly been influenced by highly publicized business scandals in the past few years, young people still believe ethics is important in the workplace: 94% said that “In business and the workplace, trust and honesty are essential.” (Q7).

·    Goodness More Important Than Wealth. Eighty-nine percent (89%) agree that “Being a good person is more important than being rich” (though twice as many males disagree with this statement than females (11% v. 6%) (Q4).

·    Role Models. Despite a growing concern that young people lack positive role models, 82% say that “most adults in my life consistently set a good example of ethics and character.” (Q2).

o    Though one justification for the rampant cheating is the pressure put on youngsters by parents, the overwhelming majority (90%) say that their parents or guardians “always want me to do the right thing, no matter the cost” (Q3)

o    Only 7% say that their parents “would rather they cheat than get bad grades” (Q12)

Self-Appraisal. Despite admissions of high levels of lying, cheating and theft, high school students maintain a high self image of their character and ethics both in relative and absolute terms.

·    92% say they are “satisfied with my own ethics and character.” (Q25)

·    84% expected that half or more of all the people who knew them would list them as one of the most ethical people they know (Q61).

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