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Does Economics and Business Education Wash Away Moral Judgment Competence?

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. For instance, in the Faculty of Economics and Business, approximately 70 % of the bachelor’s students directly continue with their master’s education, and in the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Medicine, nearly all students continue with their master’s education because bachelor’s degrees in law or medicine do not qualify one to practice.

  2. We conducted a pretest with 162 students across different courses of studies in the fall semester of 2012 to check the duration and comprehensibility of the questionnaire. Based on the results from this pretest, we adjusted and rephrased some questions to enhance students’ ability to understand and complete the questionnaire.

  3. Yussen (1976) reports evidence that DIT scores can be manipulated upward by respondents. Similarly, Emler et al. (1983) report differences in DIT scores when respondents are asked to fill in the questionnaires from political extreme perspectives.

  4. These three criteria include cognitive-affective parallelism, the quasi-simplex structure of stage correlations, and monotonous preference hierarchy.

  5. Because of this neutral effect, there are no differences between pure and relative treatment effects for the different study fields.

Abbreviations

CMD:

Cognitive moral development

DIT:

Defining issues test

MJC:

Moral judgment competence

MCT:

Moral competence test

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Hummel, K., Pfaff, D. & Rost, K. Does Economics and Business Education Wash Away Moral Judgment Competence?. J Bus Ethics 150, 559–577 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3142-6

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Keywords

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