Research Watch: Report Card on Lying, Cheating and Stealing
Josephson Institute of Ethics
Free at http://www.josephsoninstitute.org/98-Survey/98survey.htm
If lying, cheating and stealing were on report cards, many middle school students would be rated as dishonest, and high school students would do even worse, according to a newly released study by the Josephson Institute of Ethics.
The survey of more than 20,000 middle and high school students enrolled in randomly selected schools across the country in 1998 found that most children expressed socially acceptable views of honesty and ethics, but reported substantial levels of lying, cheating and stealing.
Among middle school students, 31 percent reported that they had stolen from a store at least once during the past year, compared to 47 percent of high school students. Approximately half of the middle school students who reported stealing say they did so once; most of the high school students who stole say they did so at least twice. Girls were less likely to report stealing than boys in middle school (24 percent vs. 36 percent) and high school (40 percent vs. 53 percent). Stealing was not related to age in either group, except that the few 15-to-16-year-olds in middle school were as likely to steal as were high school students.
Stealing from parents and relatives was less common, but 24 percent of middle schoolers and 31 percent of high schoolers stole from family members at least once during the past year. There were no differences between boys and girls in middle school, but high school girls were less likely than boys to steal from relatives. In both groups, stealing from family members increased very slightly with age.
Stealing from friends was almost as common as stealing from relatives in middle school (23 percent) and high school (25 percent). Stealing from friends was twice as likely among boys than girls (30 percent vs. 15 percent in middle school, and 33 percent vs. 16 percent in high school).
The majority of children reported cheating on a test at least once in the past year, ranging from 54 percent in middle school to 70 percent in high school. Boys were more likely to cheat than girls, and cheating increased with age.
Approximately two-thirds of middle school students reported lying to their parents. By high school, 79 percent reported lying to parents at least once in the past year. In both school groups, boys are girls were equal.
Students were also asked if they sometimes lied to save money. More than one-third (36 percent) of middle schoolers reported that they have, compared to 22 percent who said their parents have done so. In high school, almost half (49 percent) said they did, and 32 percent said their parents have. Boys were more likely to answer yes for both themselves and their parents.
Some of the differences may reflect students' willingness to be honest about their dishonesty. For example, more than two-thirds (69 percent) of the high school students said they had answered all survey questions honestly compared to 63 percent of the middle school students.
Although the students reported dishonest behavior, they were not indifferent to ethical issues. Ninety-eight percent of middle schoolers and 97 percent of high schoolers agreed with the statement, "It's important for me to be a person with good character."
Zuckerman, Diana. "Report Card on Lying, Cheating and Stealing." Research Watch review of "1998 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth".Youth Today, Dec/Jan 1999, p. 11.
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