Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 150, Issue 2, pp 559–577 | Cite as

Does Economics and Business Education Wash Away Moral Judgment Competence?

  • Katrin HummelEmail author
  • Dieter Pfaff
  • Katja Rost


In view of the numerous accounting and corporate scandals associated with various forms of moral misconduct and the recent financial crisis, economics and business programs are often accused of actively contributing to the amoral decision making of their graduates. It is argued that theories and ideas taught at universities engender moral misbehavior among some managers, as these theories mainly focus on the primacy of profit-maximization and typically neglect the ethical and moral dimensions of decision making. To investigate this criticism, two overlapping effects must be disentangled: the self-selection effect and the treatment effect. Drawing on the concept of moral judgment competence, we empirically examine this question with a sample of 1773 bachelor’s and 501 master’s students. Our results reveal that there is neither a self-selection nor a treatment effect for economics and business studies. Moreover, our results indicate that—regardless of the course of studies—university education in general does not seem to foster students’ moral development.


Economics and business education Moral judgment competence Moral reasoning Self-selection effect Treatment effect 



Cognitive moral development


Defining issues test


Moral judgment competence


Moral competence test


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Business AdministrationUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Institute of SociologyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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