Adolescents have increasing discretionary income, expenditures, and purchasing power. Inventory shrinkage costs $123.4 billion globally to retail outlets. Adolescents are disproportionately responsible for theft and shoplifting. Both parents and peers significantly influence adolescents’ monetary values, materialism, and dishonesty as consumers. In this study, we develop a theoretical model involving teenagers’ social (parental and peer) attachment and their consumer ethics, treat adolescents’ money attitude in the context of youth materialism as a mediator, and simultaneously examine the direct (Social Attachment → Consumer Ethics) and indirect paths (Social Attachment → Money and Materialism → Consumer Ethics). Results of 1018 adolescents (France = 534 and China = 484; average age = 15.21) illustrate that social attachment discourages unethical beliefs directly, but encourages it indirectly through monetary values. Our multi-group analyses demonstrate a novel paradox: The correlation between parental and peer attachments is smaller in France than in China, but similar across gender. Parents contribute more than peers to social attachment in France, but both carry equal weight in China. There is a negative direct path for the Chinese sample and for girls. Indirectly, parental attachment prevents French teenagers’ unethical beliefs, whereas peer attachment promotes boys’ unethical intention, supporting the notion—bad company corrupts good morals. Across both culture and gender, monetary attitude excites dishonesty consistently for all adolescents. A negative direct path exists for Chinese boys only (the Pygmalion Effect for male little emperors). Overall, social attachment reduces unethical beliefs. Parental and peer supports shape teenagers’ monetary intelligence and ethical or unethical decision making, differently, across culture and gender. We provide theoretical, empirical, and practical implications to ethical parenting, peer attachment, monetary values, and business ethics.
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We would like to acknowledge the financial support provided by the Program for Changjiang Scholars and Innovation Research Team (PCSIRT) in University, Ministry of Education, China (Grant No. IRT 13030) to the third author. We would like to thank Scott J. Vitell for his support and encouragement; two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions; and late Fr. Wiatt Funk, Deacon Pete Semich, Marc Singer, Dan Morrell, Frank Cathey Jr., Joshua D. Pentecost, and Theresa Li-Na Tang for their advice and assistance.
Appendix: Items and Constructs of Our Major Measures
My parents put a lot of time and energy into helping me
My parents find time to talk to me
My parents spend a lot of time with me
My friends like me for who I am
My friends are comforting
My friends are helpful
I am happy in my life
Are you happy in general?
Symbolic Meaning of Money*
Saving money give me a sense of security
It is very important to me to save money for the future
I prefer to save money because I never know when I will need the cash
I budget my money very well
I spend my money wisely
I spend my money very carefully
Materialism (Youth Materialism)*
The only kind of job I want when I grow up is the one that gets me a lot of money
I would be happier if I had more money to buy more things for myself
Consumer Ethics (Muncy and Vitell 1992)***
Actively Benefiting from Illegal Activities
Giving misleading price information to a clerk for an unpriced item†
Using the phone card–SIM–of a cell phone that does not belong to you†
Drinking a can of soda in a store without paying for it†
Changing price-tags on merchandise in a retail store
Returning damaged goods when the damage was your fault
Lying about a child’s age to get a lower price†
Not saying anything when the waiter or waitress miscalculates a bill in your favor†
Getting too much change and not saying anything†
Being on holidays in a rented apartment with your family, you use an Internet connection without paying for it
Deceptive or Questionable
Knowingly using an expired coupon for merchandise†
Returning merchandise to a store by claiming it was a gift when it was not†
Using a coupon for merchandise you did not buy†
No Harm/No Foul
Spending over an hour trying on clothes and not buying anything†
Downloading movies on Internet rather than buying them†
Returning merchandise because you don’t like it†
Borrowing a CD from a friend, burning it rather than buying it
Note All items were measured using a 5-point scale with different scale anchors.
* Strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5).
** Not at all happy (1) to very happy (5).
*** Strongly believe that it is wrong (1) to strongly believe that it is not wrong (5).
High score means doing something unethical.
† Items used in the theoretical model.
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Gentina, E., Tang, T.LP. & Gu, Q. Do Parents and Peers Influence Adolescents’ Monetary Intelligence and Consumer Ethics? French and Chinese Adolescents and Behavioral Economics. J Bus Ethics 151, 115–140 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3206-7
- Love of money
- Life satisfaction
- Intrinsic/extrinsic motivation/reward
- Material parenting
- Wedding at Cana/miracle
- The Matthew effect
- Boomerang/Enron effect