Money, Emotions, and Ethics Across Individuals and Countries

Abstract

This article presents two separate but closely related studies. We used a first sample to investigate the relationships among individuals’ reports of their income and their subjective well-being, and their approval of unethical behavior in 27 countries and a second sample to investigate the relationship between corruption in 55 countries and their populace’s aggregated feelings of subjective well-being (happiness). Analysis of data from 27,762 working professionals showed that, although reported feelings of subjective well-being were negatively related to their approval of unethical behaviors, income was positively related to their approval of unethical behaviors. In addition, the effects for feelings of subjective well-being were particularly strong for high-income people. Analyses also showed that, after controlling for economic development and other country-level factors, corruption was negatively related to a country’s feelings of happiness. These findings suggest that feelings of subjective well-being may lead to more ethical, less corrupt behavior and that the tolerance of unethical, corrupt behavior may lead to less collective happiness and subjective well-being.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Sociologists (e.g., Zelizer 1994) have also discussed non-economic aspects of money, e.g., its social and symbolic meanings. In the current research, we focus on the economic and utilitarian aspects of money because it is the most common form of income.

  2. 2.

    To test the validity of this measure, we also used another single-item measure of overall happiness in our analysis. Because the other question was on a 1–4 scale, we could not easily combine it with our subjective well-being item to reliably form a single factor, even after performing several different scale transformations (e.g., Taras et al. 2012). Analysis of this other measure also led to similar overall results as those reported above.

  3. 3.

    Although GDP per capita was highly correlated with public ethics and individualism, including or excluding it from our analyses led to similar results.

  4. 4.

    The results remained the same when we tested a quadratic regression model using GDP per capita.

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Wang, L., Murnighan, J.K. Money, Emotions, and Ethics Across Individuals and Countries. J Bus Ethics 125, 163–176 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-013-1914-9

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Keywords

  • Ethics
  • Emotions
  • Income
  • Subjective well-being
  • Culture
  • Corruption