Academic journal article Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues

Personal Values and Ethical Viewpoints of Accounting Majors: How Do They Compare to Other Students'?

Academic journal article Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues

Personal Values and Ethical Viewpoints of Accounting Majors: How Do They Compare to Other Students'?

Article excerpt


Corporate fraud and financial reporting scandals have raised significant questions about accountants' ethics and the accounting profession's ability to perform its role in reducing information risk for investors. If accountants are to regain the public's trust, business entities, professional organizations, public accounting firms, and accounting educators must all search for ways to ensure that accountants are poised to make appropriate ethical choices even in difficult situations. A myriad of factors can affect an individual's ethical choices. The more that is understood about these influences the better the profession can prepare accountants to face ethical challenges. This study seeks to provide information regarding the personal values of accounting students compared to those of other students and the relationship of those values to ethical choices. A total of 142 students from one Midwestern state university completed the Schwartz (1992) values inventory. The participants also evaluated the actions of individuals in four ethical dilemma scenarios. Accounting majors were found to differ significantly from the nonaccounting majors on four of ten values: power, security, self-direction, and universalism. In addition, the accounting majors exhibited statistically higher disapproval of the unethical actions than the nonaccounting majors, for all four scenarios. Significant correlations of values to the ethical dilemma evaluations were found for three of the four scenarios.


In the aftermath of the latest corporate financial reporting frauds and audit failures, concern over ethics in business has escalated. The public is demanding more oversight and accountability, particularly for accountants and the audit function, and many business schools are under increased scrutiny in regard to their coverage of ethics in the curriculum. Reducing instances of corporate malfeasance, however, requires an understanding of what drives this behavior. Until that understanding is obtained, it is difficult to determine the most effective means to improving the situation. Is the solution increased ethics education, more extensive laws and regulations, or better recruitment and screening for financial positions?

It has long been posited that individuals' values drive them to act ethically or unethically in pursuit of their goals, but extant empirical research to date is inconclusive as to the nature of the relationship between values and ethical behaviors. One theory of values that has been validated cross-culturally is that of Schwartz (1992). This study seeks to apply the Schwartz value theory together with student reactions to a series of ethical dilemmas in order to determine in what ways the students' reactions to the dilemmas are associated with their personal values. In addition, this study seeks to determine if accounting majors differ significantly from other business majors and nonbusiness majors in what they value and in their reactions to the ethical dilemmas. A deeper understanding of these issues should provide information as to the best approach to improving the ethical climate in business.


Personal values represent those things that are significant to individuals in their lives (Bardi and Schwartz, 2003). As such, values serve as a motivator of behavior, at both conscious and subconscious levels. That is, a person may act in ways that are driven by his or her values, even though that individual is not overtly thinking about those values. This association of values and behavior should encompass all settings, such as work, home, and relationships (Bardi and Schwartz, 2003). In addition, an individual's values tend to remain stable throughout adulthood (Bardi and Schwartz, 2003). Therefore, an individual's values should have a very robust influence on his or her life. While various values measurement scales exist, one that has been extensively tested and validated across cultures is the Schwartz (1992) scale. …

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