Academic journal article Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues

Do Values Change over Time? an Exploratary Study of Business Majors

Academic journal article Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues

Do Values Change over Time? an Exploratary Study of Business Majors

Article excerpt


Ethics and values have become important issues in recent years due to the exposure created from accounting misconduct and misrepresented financial statements from some of the United States' largest companies. The best publicized of these was the Enron/Arthur Anderson case, which in the end lead to the demise of both companies, with Enron filing for bankruptcy and Arthur Anderson ceasing to exist. Other cases of improper accounting include WorldCom, Waste Management, Sunbeam, Tyco, Adelphia, and Global Crossing. At the center of these cases are the managers who prepare and approve the financial statements and the accountants who audit the financial statements.

Value can be defined in a variety of different ways, but can be summarized as the attitudes, beliefs, and principles which guide an individual in making decisions based on how the ultimate outcome effects themselves. Schwartz (1992) defines values as "desirable goals varying in importance that serve as guiding principles in peoples' lives." It stands to reason that if values guide and/or influence behaviors then values are an important variable in ethical behavior and decision making.

In addition, some research has found that ethical behavior can change over time (see Akers & Giacomino 2000, Clikeman & Henning 2000, Earley & Kelly 2004) with education or experience. Giacomino & Akers (1998) explain, "to provide meaningful guidance regarding values, educators and administrators, in addition to having an understanding of values, should have an awareness of social influences and the importance of values in business. Society can influence the students' values prior to and during college, while businesses can influence employees' values throughout their professional careers." The question arises whether today's students have adjusted or changed their values in lieu of the recent exposure to the numerous accounting scandals.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the values and value types of business majors using the Schwartz (1992) Value Survey that measures the importance of specific values. The Schwartz (1992) Value Survey is one of the most widely used instrument for measuring personal values (see Lan et al., 2013; Lan et al., 2008; Boer & Fisher, 2013; Nistor & Hut, 2011; Verkasalo et al., 2009; Myyry, 2008; Lindeman & Verkasalo, 2005; Davidov et al., 2008; Schwartz & Sagiv, 1995). While there have been numerous studies using the Survey, an understanding of whether values change over time is still not clear.

The inclusion of ethical topics within the business curriculum has increased within the last decade following the Enron/Anderson scandal. Many universities have developed separate courses on business ethics and textbooks typically include ethical issues within the chapters. The objective of this study is to explore whether this heighten awareness of ethical issues has altered business majors values between the period of 2004 and 2010.

The next section of this paper will review relevant research on the Schwartz Value Survey (1992), changing values, and gender. Research methodology is the subject of the third section, and the fourth presents the results of the survey. The final section will discuss the results, limitations of the survey, and suggestions for future research.


The Schwartz (1992) Value Survey

Schwartz (1992) studies a set of 56 human values across different cultures. The outcome of the study provides a two-dimensional model that classifies values according to their motivational types and explains the compatibilities and tensions between these values. Using samples of undergraduate university students and school teachers across 20 different countries, Schwartz (1992) finds that human values result from ten motivational needs (also called motivational types or value types): self-direction, stimulation, hedonism, achievement, power, security, conformity, tradition, benevolence, and universalism. …

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