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Survey: Teens Feel Intense Pressure to Succeed -- Even if it Means Cutting Ethical Corners

Published 12-06-06

Submitted by Deloitte

Colorado Springs, CO, December 6, 2006. - Young people are feeling strong pressure to succeed in school, no matter the cost, a new survey has found. More than two out of five teens (44 percent) say they feel either a lot or overwhelming pressure to succeed in school, no matter the cost. And more girls than boys feel this heavy burden to succeed. Those are among the findings of the fourth annual "Teen Ethics Poll" released today by JA Worldwide™ (Junior Achievement) and Deloitte & Touche USA LLP (Deloitte).

The survey, designed to take the ethical pulse of teens aged 13 to 18, found a notable gender gap among those who reported "a lot" or "overwhelming" pressure to succeed in school at any cost: fully half of the girls (50 percent) - but only 38 percent of the boys - felt this burden to do well in school. Teens also hold a dim view on the ethics of their peers. Many (44 percent) say high school students behave unethically, placing them, in their eyes, below doctors, teachers, professional athletes and business leaders.

"These survey results underscore that it is critical to educate and prepare the next generation to make ethical decisions - even during the most stressful, pressure-filled situations," says Jim Quigley, CEO of Deloitte & Touche USA LLP. "The business community has seen how ignoring ethical responsibilities can lead to devastating results. All of us in business owe it to the next generation to teach, model and support ethical standards every step of the way."

The survey also raised an apparent discrepancy between how students define ethical behavior and what constitutes such behavior:

  • In a seemingly positive trend, the percentage of students who say they would not act unethically to get ahead or make more money, even if they knew for sure they would not get caught (59 percent), has increased by 40 percent since 2003.

  • However, this is juxtaposed against the fact that many teens admitted they had personally engaged in unethical behavior in the last year by lying (69 percent), downloading a song without paying (34 percent), and cheating on tests (22 percent).

    Eight in ten (81 percent) students who feel significant pressure to succeed, no matter the cost, think it's going to remain the same or get worse when they join the workforce. And more than a quarter (29 percent) of all teens believe they are currently only somewhat or not at all prepared to make ethical decisions. "We have to take it seriously when students who are under so much stress tell us they think it's not going to get any better, especially if they don't feel prepared to make the right calls," said Ainar D. Aijala, Jr., vice chairman and deputy chief executive officer of Deloitte Consulting LLP and chairman of the board of JA Worldwide.

    Experts agree that these results raise a red flag. "The notion that large numbers of students feel somewhat unprepared to make ethical decisions, coupled with the fact that they feel pressure to succeed at all costs, is a troubling combination," said David Miller Ph.D., Executive Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and Assistant Professor (Adjunct) of Business Ethics. "We are reminded that community and corporate leaders can play a pivotal role in helping prepare students to recognize and resist the inevitable ethical dilemmas they will face later in life."

    These results suggest a profound need for training in ethical decision-making.

    JA Worldwide and Deloitte are collaborating on a multi-faceted educational program, which can be delivered as early as the fourth grade, to help students learn to make ethical decisions and alleviate the pressure to behave unethically. The "Excellence through Ethics" program includes classroom lessons that teach the value of ethical behavior, a $5,000 college scholarship essay contest which requires high school seniors to demonstrate their ability to apply ethical decision-making to real-life situations, expansion to the U.S. of an existing Global Ethics Challenge, and implementation grants for U.S. Junior Achievement offices which use the program. The program is being underwritten by Deloitte, which has committed $2 million to the JA Worldwide ethics program.

    "The results of this poll clearly demonstrate the ongoing need to give young people tools they can use to help them make ethical decisions when faced with a difficult situation," said David S. Chernow, president and chief executive officer of JA Worldwide. "JA Worldwide continually strives to help prepare young people to enter the workforce by teaching them skills that prospective employers will value, such as strong interpersonal skills, leadership, and decision-making. We feel that a strong sense of ethical behavior is just as valuable in the workplace and in life, and we're proud to join with Deloitte to help deliver this vital information to our young people."

    The 2006 "Teen Ethics Poll" was commissioned by Junior Achievement and Deloitte and conducted by Harris Interactive during September 2006; 787 students between the ages of 13 and 18 participated.


    This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive® on behalf of Junior Achievement and Deloitte between September 13 to September 21, 2006 among 787 teens ages 13-18. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, parental education, and region were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.

    With a pure probability sample of 787 one could say with a ninety-five percent probability that the overall results have a sampling error of +/-3 percentage points. Sampling error for data based on sub-samples may be higher and may vary. However, this does not take other sources of error into account. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

    About JA Worldwide™ (Junior Achievement)

    JA Worldwide is the world's largest organization dedicated to inspiring and preparing young people to succeed in a global economy. Through a dedicated volunteer network, JA Worldwide provides in-school and after-school programs for students in grades K-12. JA Worldwide offers educational programs that focus on seven key content areas: business, citizenship, economics, entrepreneurship, ethics/character, financial literacy, and career development. Today, 139 individual area operations reach approximately four million students in the United States, with more than 3.5 million students served by operations in 100 countries worldwide. For more information, visit

    About Deloitte

    Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, a Swiss Verein, its member firms, and their respective subsidiaries and affiliates. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu is an organization of member firms around the world devoted to excellence in providing professional services and advice, focused on client service through a global strategy executed locally in nearly 140 countries. With access to the deep intellectual capital of approximately 135,000 people worldwide, Deloitte delivers services in four professional areas--audit, tax, consulting and financial advisory services--and serves more than 80 percent of the world's largest companies, as well as large national enterprises, public institutions, locally important clients, and successful, fast-growing global growth companies. Services are not provided by the Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Verein, and, for regulatory and other reasons, certain member firms do not provide services in all four professional areas.

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    About Harris Interactive

    Harris Interactive is the 12th largest and fastest-growing market research firm in the world. The company provides research-driven insights and strategic advice to help its clients make more confident decisions which lead to measurable and enduring improvements in performance. Harris Interactive is widely known for The Harris Poll, one of the longest running, independent opinion polls and for pioneering online market research methods. The company has built what it believes to be the world's largest panel of survey respondents, the Harris Poll Online. Harris Interactive serves clients worldwide through its United States, Europe and Asia offices, its wholly-owned subsidiary Novatris in France and through a global network of independent market research firms. The service bureau, HISB, provides its market research industry clients with mixed-mode data collection, panel development services as well as syndicated and tracking research consultation. More information about Harris Interactive may be obtained at

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