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New National Poll: Nearly 40 Percent of "Ethically Prepared" Teens Believe Lying, Cheating, or Violence Necessary to Succeed

Published 12-05-07

Submitted by Deloitte

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO, December 5, 2007 - A significant percentage of teenagers who are confident in their ability to make ethical decisions regard dishonest and even violent behavior as necessary for success, according to the fifth annual Junior Achievement/Deloitte Teen Ethics Survey, which polled teens across the country.

The majority of teens surveyed (71 percent) say they feel fully prepared to make ethical decisions when they enter the workforce. Yet 38 percent of that group believe it is sometimes necessary to cheat, plagiarize, lie or even behave violently in order to succeed. Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of all teens surveyed think cheating on a test is acceptable on some level, and more than half of those teens (54 percent) say their personal desire to succeed is the rationale.

In a particularly alarming finding given recent cases of school violence, nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of all teens surveyed think violence toward another person is acceptable on some level. Of those who think so, the justifications for violence include settling an argument (27 percent) and revenge (20 percent).

"The high percentages of teenagers who freely admit that unethical behavior can be justified is alarming," said David Miller, Ph.D., executive director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and Assistant Professor (Adjunct) of Business Ethics, who reviewed the findings. "It suggests an attitude of ethical relativism and rationalization of whatever actions serve one's immediate needs and purposes.

"This way of thinking will inevitably lead to unethical if not illegal actions that will damage individual lives and ruin corporate reputations," he said.

Pressure to succeed in school seems to be driving many teens' opinions that unethical behavior is an acceptable means to an end. Of the teens who think plagiarism is acceptable on some level, 37 percent think a personal desire to succeed is justification-that number climbs to 51 percent among the students who feel overwhelming pressure to succeed.

The survey also found that teens have difficulty in understanding that unethical behavior transcends the boundaries between private life, school or work life, and online behavior. More than a quarter (27 percent) of all teens surveyed said it is not fair for an employer to suspend or fire employees for unethical behavior outside of their jobs and another quarter (26 percent) said they weren't sure if it was fair or not.

Additionally, more than half (57 percent) of all teens surveyed believe it is not fair for employers to make hiring or firing decisions based on material they have posted to the internet and another 19 percent weren't sure if it was fair or not. Illustrating teens' perception of different ethical standards for online versus "real world" behavior, nearly half (47 percent) of teens said it was acceptable on some level to illegally download music without paying for it, but only 5 percent said it was acceptable to steal something from a store.

Junior Achievement and Deloitte recently launched "JA Business Ethics" in a continuation of their $2 million initiative to help young people make ethical decisions. "JA Business Ethics" is a new program developed in response to the needs of high school students; it provides hands-on classroom activities and real-life applications designed to foster ethical decision-making as students prepare to enter the workforce. Students examine how their beliefs align with major ethics theories and learn the benefits and advantages of having a code of ethics. Additionally, Junior Achievement recently updated the original "Excellence through Ethics" program, which is available online free of charge and provides age-appropriate lessons for students in grades 4-12.

"As the teens of today become the workforce of tomorrow, it is more important than ever that they learn how to make appropriate, ethical decisions. Our society relies on its members having a clear understanding that integrity and trust are the foundation of all human relationships." said Gerald M. Czarnecki, president and chief executive officer of JA Worldwide (Junior Achievement). "Thanks to Deloitte, JA provides age-appropriate ethics training for students in grades 4-12. These programs are usually delivered by a volunteer from the business community who can show young people the importance of ethical decision-making through experiential learning, role-modeling and dialogue. As a result, youth learn the importance of becoming productive, contributing members of the workforce, which strengthens businesses and builds communities."

Business leaders agree. "It's sobering when teens who say they are fully prepared to make ethical decisions on the job also say they need to cheat to fulfill their personal ambition, to plagiarize because they don't have enough time, or to physically harm another because they've had an argument," said Ainar D. Aijala, Jr. Global Managing Partner, Consulting, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and Chairman of JA Worldwide. "These indicators do not bode well for the coping strategies of society's future workforce, so the Junior Achievement-Deloitte training in ethical decision-making is the best investment we could make."

The survey also found that despite self-confidence in their own ethical behavior, teens take a pessimistic view of their peers. When asked to evaluate the behavior of a number of groups - business leaders, religious leaders, doctors, lawyers, police officers, teachers, professional athletes and fire fighters - teens ranked high school students second to last. In their view, only politicians are more unethical than they are.


This Junior Achievement/Deloitte Teen Ethics Survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of Junior Achievement between September 19 to September 26, 2007 among 725 U.S. 13-18 year olds. 13-17 year old results were weighted as needed for age, sex, race/ethnicity, parental education, urbanicity, and region. 18 year old results were weighted as needed for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, and household income. Harris Interactive was responsible for the data collection and Junior Achievement/Deloitte were responsible for the analyses of the data.

With a pure probability sample of 725 one could say with a ninety-five percent probability that the overall results have a sampling error of +/-4 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.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the U.S. 13-18 year old population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to be invited to participate in the Harris Interactive online research panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

About JA Worldwide(R) (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 three key content areas: entrepreneurship, work readiness, and financial literacy. Today, 140 individual area operations reach more than four million students in the United States, with an additional 4.3 million students served by operations in 114 other countries worldwide. For more information, visit

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As used in this document, "Deloitte" means Deloitte & Touche USA LLP. Please see for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte & Touche USA LLP and its subsidiaries.

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