Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 155, Issue 4, pp 1179–1194 | Cite as

Everyday-Life Business Deviance Among Chinese SME Owners

  • Junzhe Ji
  • Pavlos Dimitratos
  • Qingan Huang
  • Taoyong SuEmail author
Original Paper


Despite its prevalence in emerging economies, everyday-life business deviance (EBD) and its antecedents have received surprisingly little research attention. Drawing on strain theory and the business-ethics literature, we develop a socio-psychological explanation for this deviance. Our analysis of 741 owners of Chinese small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) suggests that materialism and trust in institutional justice affect EBD both directly and indirectly in a relationship mediated by the ethical standards of SME owners. These findings have important implications for researching deviant business behavior within SMEs.


Everyday-life business deviance Ethical standards Materialism Strain theory Trust in institutional justice 



This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 71402121) and the Research Foundation of Humanities and Social Sciences for Young Scholars by the Ministry of Education of China (Grant No. 15YJC630040).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Junzhe Ji declares that he has no conflict of interest. Pavlos Dimitratos declares that he has no conflict of interest. Qingan Huang declares that he has no conflict of interest. Taoyong Su declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Agnew, R. (1992). Foundation for a general strain theory of crime and delinquency. Criminology, 30(1), 47–87.Google Scholar
  2. Agnew, R. (2001). Building on the foundation of general strain theory: Specifying the types of strain most likely to lead to crime and delinquency. Journal of Research in Crime & Delinquency, 38, 319–361.Google Scholar
  3. Agnew, R. (2007). Pressured into crime: An overview of general strain theory. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Agnew, R. (2013). When criminal coping is likely: An extension of general strain theory. Deviant Behavior, 34(8), 653–670.Google Scholar
  5. Ahlstrom, D., & Bruton, G. D. (2002). An institutional perspective on the role of culture in shaping strategic actions by technology-focused entrepreneurial firms in China. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 26(4), 53–69.Google Scholar
  6. Ahlstrom, D., & Ding, Z. (2014). Entrepreneurship in China: An overview. International Small Business Journal, 32(6), 610–618.Google Scholar
  7. Aiken, L. S., West, S. G., & Reno, R. R. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  8. Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179–211.Google Scholar
  9. Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (2005). The influence of attitudes on behavior. In D. Albarracín, B. T. Johnson, & M. P. Zanna (Eds.), The handbook of attitudes (pp. 173–221). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  10. Al-Rafee, S., & Cronan, T. (2006). Digital piracy: Factors that influence attitude toward behavior. Journal of Business Ethics, 63(3), 237–259.Google Scholar
  11. Anderson, J. C., & Gerbing, D. W. (1988). Structural equation modeling in practice: A review and recommended two-step approach. Psychological Bulletin, 103, 411–423.Google Scholar
  12. Armstrong, J., & Overton, T. (1977). Estimating nonresponse bias in mail surveys. Journal of Marketing Research, 14(3), 396–402.Google Scholar
  13. Bain and Company. (2012). Chinese shoppers world’s top luxury goods spenders, while China luxury market cools to seven percent growth in 2012. Retrieved October 30, 2016.
  14. Baron, R., & Kenny, D. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182.Google Scholar
  15. Baumer, E. P. (2007). Untangling research puzzles in Merton’s multilevel anomie theory. Theoretical Criminology, 11, 63–93.Google Scholar
  16. Baumer, E. P., & Gustafson, R. (2007). Social organization and instrumental crime: Assessing the empirical validity of classic and contemporary anomie theories. Criminology, 45, 617–663.Google Scholar
  17. Baumol, W. J. (1990). Entrepreneurship: Productive, unproductive and destructive. Journal of Political Economy, 98(5), 893–921.Google Scholar
  18. Bernburg, J. G. (2002). Anomie, social change and crime: A theoretical examination of institutional-anomie theory. British Journal of Criminology, 42(4), 729–742.Google Scholar
  19. Bian, Y., Breiger, R. L., Davis, D., & Galaskiewicz, J. (2005). Occupation, class and social networks in urban China. Social Forces, 83(4), 1143–1167.Google Scholar
  20. Bowen, H. P., & De Clercq, D. (2008). Institutional context and the allocation of entrepreneurial effort. Journal of International Business Studies, 39(4), 768.Google Scholar
  21. Brislin, R. W. (1970). Back-translation for cross-cultural research. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 1, 185–216.Google Scholar
  22. Browaeys, M.-J., & Price, R. (2008). Understanding cross-cultural management. England: Pearson.Google Scholar
  23. Button, M., Tapley, J., & Lewis, C. (2013). The ‘fraud justice network’ and the infra-structure of support for individual fraud victims in England and Wales. Criminology & Criminal Justice, 13(1), 37–61.Google Scholar
  24. Cao, L. (2007). Returning to normality: Anomie and crime in China. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 51(1), 40–51.Google Scholar
  25. China Centre for Promotion of SME Development. (2014). Yearbook of small and medium enterprise (2014). Beijing: Enterprise Management Publishing House.Google Scholar
  26. China-US Focus. (2016). Private sector economy. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  27. Chiotis, V. (2015). The morality of economic behavior. Journal of Global Ethics, 11(2), 188–204.Google Scholar
  28. Christie, P. M. J., Kwon, I.-W. G., Stoeberl, P. A., & Baumhart, R. (2003). A cross-cultural comparison of ethical attitudes of business managers: India Korea and the United States. Journal of Business Ethics, 46, 263–287.Google Scholar
  29. Chung, J., & Monroe, G. S. (2003). Exploring social desirability bias. Journal of Business Ethics, 44, 291–302.Google Scholar
  30. Craft, J. L. (2013). A review of the empirical ethical decision-making literature: 2004–2011. Journal of Business Ethics, 117, 221–259.Google Scholar
  31. Cressey, D. R. (1953). Other people’s money: The social psychology of embezzlement. New York, NY: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  32. Cullen, J. B., Parboteeah, K. P., & Hoegl, M. (2004). Cross-national differences in managers’ willingness to adhere to ethically suspect behaviors: A test of institutional anomie theory. Academy of Management Journal, 47(3), 411–421.Google Scholar
  33. Dakhli, M., & De Clercq, D. (2004). Human capital, social capital, and innovation: A multi-country study. Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, 16, 107–128.Google Scholar
  34. De Clercq, D., & Dakhli, M. (2009). Personal strain and ethical standards of the self-employed. Journal of Business Venturing, 24, 477–490.Google Scholar
  35. de Jong, G., Tu, P. A., & van Ees, H. (2012). Which entrepreneurs bribe and what do they get from it? Exploratory evidence from Vietnam. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 36, 323–345.Google Scholar
  36. Dickson, M. W., Smith, D. B., Grojean, M. W., & Ehrhart, M. (2001). An organizational climate regarding ethics: The outcome of leader values and the practices that reflect them. Leadership Quarterly, 12(2), 197–217.Google Scholar
  37. Dickson, P. H., Weaver, K. M., & Hoy, F. (2006). Opportunism in the R&D alliances of SMES: The roles of the institutional environment and SME size. Journal of Business Venturing, 21(4), 487–513.Google Scholar
  38. Dunn, P., & Shome, A. (2009). Cultural crossvergence and social desirability bias: Ethical evaluations by Chinese and Canadian business students. Journal of Business Ethics, 85(4), 527–543.Google Scholar
  39. Durkheim, E. (1897). Suicide: A study in sociology. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  40. Featherstone, R., & Deflem, M. (2003). Anomie and strain: Context and consequences of Merton’s two theories. Sociological Inquiry, 73, 471–489.Google Scholar
  41. Fisher, R. J. (1993). Social desirability bias and the validity of indirect questioning. Journal of Consumer Research, 20, 303–315.Google Scholar
  42. Fornell, C., & Larcker, D. F. (1981). Evaluating structural equation models with unobservable variables and measurement error. Journal of Marketing Research, 18(1), 39–50.Google Scholar
  43. Goldthorpe, J. (2007). On sociology: Vol. 2, Illustration and retrospect. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Graafland, J. (2015). Religiosity, attitude, and the demand for socially responsible products. Journal of Business Ethics. doi: 10.1007/s10551-015-2796-9.Google Scholar
  45. Harrell, S. (1985). Why do the Chinese work so hard?: Reflections on an entrepreneurial ethic. Modern China, 11(2), 203–226.Google Scholar
  46. Haß, L. H., Johan, S., & Müller, M. A. (2016). The effectiveness of public enforcement: Evidence from the resolution of tunneling in China. Journal of Business Ethics, 134(4), 649–668.Google Scholar
  47. Holbig, H., & Gilley, B. (2010). Reclaiming legitimacy in China. Politics & Policy, 38(3), 395–422.Google Scholar
  48. Ipsos. (2013). Global attitudes on materialism, finances and family. Retrieved November 27, 2015.
  49. Itashiki, M. R. (2011). Explaining “everyday crime”: A test of anomie and relative deprivation theory. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of North Texas.Google Scholar
  50. James, L. R., Mulaik, S. A., & Brett, J. M. (2008). A tale of two methods. Organizational Research Methods, 9, 233–244.Google Scholar
  51. Ji, J., & Dimitratos, P. (2013). Confucian dynamism and Dunning’s framework: Direct and moderation associations in internationalized Chinese private firms. Journal of Business Research, 66(12), 2375–2382.Google Scholar
  52. Johnson, P., & Duberley, J. (2011). Anomie and culture management: Reappraising Durkheim. Organization, 18(4), 563–584.Google Scholar
  53. Johnson, P., & Smith, K. (1999). Contextualizing business ethics: Anomie and social life. Human Relations, 52(11), 1351–1484.Google Scholar
  54. Jost, J. T., & Kay, A. C. (2010). Social justice: History, theory, and research. Handbook of Social Psychology, 30, 1122–1165.Google Scholar
  55. Karstedt, S., & Farrall, S. (2006). The moral economy of everyday crime: Markets, consumers and citizens. British Journal of Criminology, 46, 1011–1036.Google Scholar
  56. Khan, F. R., Munir, K. A., & Willmott, H. (2007). A dark side of institutional entrepreneurship: Soccer balls, child labour and postcolonial impoverishment. Organization Studies, 28, 1055–1077.Google Scholar
  57. Kline, P. (1993). The handbook of psychological testing. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  58. Krumpal, I. (2013). Determinants of social desirability bias in sensitive surveys: A literature review. Quality & Quantity, 47, 2025–2047.Google Scholar
  59. Lee, K., Lim, G., & Tan, S. (1999). Dealing with resource disadvantage: Generic strategies for SMEs. Small Business Economics, 12(4), 299–311.Google Scholar
  60. Lewis, J. D., & Weigert, A. (1985). Trust as a social reality. Social Forces, 63, 967–985.Google Scholar
  61. Lu, L.-C., & Lu, C.-J. (2010). Moral philosophy, materialism, and consumer ethics: An exploratory study in Indonesia. Journal of Business Ethics, 94(2), 193–210.Google Scholar
  62. Luo, X., Zhou, L., & Liu, S. S. (2005). Entrepreneurial firms in the context of China’s transition economy: An integrative framework and empirical examination. Journal of Business Research, 58, 277–284.Google Scholar
  63. Mair, J., & Marti, I. (2009). Entrepreneurship in and around institutional voids: A case study from Bangladesh. Journal of Business Venturing, 24(5), 419–435.Google Scholar
  64. Mair, J., Marti, I., & Ventresca, M. (2012). Building inclusive markets in rural Bangladesh: How intermediaries work institutional voids. Academy of Management Journal, 55(4), 819–850.Google Scholar
  65. Martin, K. D., Cullen, J. B., Johnson, J. L., & Parboteeah, K. P. (2007). Deciding to bribe: A cross-level analysis of firm and home country influences on bribery activity. Academy of Management Journal, 50(6), 1401–1422.Google Scholar
  66. Maume, M. O., & Lee, M. R. (2003). Social institutions and violence: A sub-national test of institutional anomie theory. Criminology, 41(4), 1137–1172.Google Scholar
  67. Merton, R. K. (1938). Social structure and anomie. American Sociological Review, 3(5), 672–682.Google Scholar
  68. Messner, S. F., & Rosenfeld, R. (2001). Crime and the American dream. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  69. Messner, S., & Rosenfeld, R. (2009). Institutional anomie theory: A macro-sociological explanation of crime. In M. D. Krohn, A. J. Lizotte, & G. P. Hall (Eds.), Handbook on crime and deviance (pp. 209–224). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  70. Mueller, S. L., & Thomas, A. S. (2001). Culture and entrepreneurial potential: A nine country study of locus of control and innovativeness. Journal of Business Venturing, 16(1), 51–75.Google Scholar
  71. Musteen, M., Datta, D. K., & Butts, M. (2014). Do international networks and foreign market knowledge facilitate SME internationalization? Evidence from the Czech Republic. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 38, 749–774.Google Scholar
  72. Neter, J., Wasserman, W., & Kutner, M. (1996). Applied linear statistical models (4th ed.). Homewood, IL: Irwin.Google Scholar
  73. Nivette, A. (2014). Legitimacy and crime: Theorizing the role of the state in cross-national criminological theory. Theoretical Criminology, 18(1), 93–111.Google Scholar
  74. North, D. (1990). Institutions, institutional change and economic performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  75. O’Fallon, M. J., & Butterfield, K. D. (2005). A review of the empirical ethical decision-making literature: 1996–2003. Journal of Business Ethics, 59, 375–413.Google Scholar
  76. Podsakoff, P., Mackenzie, S., Lee, J., & Podsakoff, N. (2003). Common method biases in behavioral research: A critical review of the literature and recommended remedies. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 879–903.Google Scholar
  77. Podsakoff, P. M., & Organ, D. W. (1986). Self-reports in organizational research: Problems and prospects. Journal of Management, 12, 531–544.Google Scholar
  78. Puffer, S. M., McCarthy, D. J., & Boisot, M. (2010). Entrepreneurship in Russia and China: The impact of formal institutional voids. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 34(3), 441–467.Google Scholar
  79. Rebellon, C. J., Manasse, M. E., Van Gundy, K. T., & Cohn, E. S. (2012). Perceived injustice and delinquency: A test of general strain theory. Journal of Criminal Justice, 40(3), 230–237.Google Scholar
  80. Rest, J. R. (1986). Moral development: Advances in research and theory. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  81. Richins, M. L. (2004). The material values scale: Measurement properties and development of a short form. Journal of Consumer Research, 31(1), 209–219.Google Scholar
  82. Richins, M. L. (2013). When wanting is better than having: Materialism, transformation expectations, and product-evoked emotions in the purchase process. Journal of Consumer Research, 40, 1–18.Google Scholar
  83. Richins, M. L., & Dawson, S. (1992). A consumer values orientation for materialism and its measurement: Scale development and validation. Journal of Consumer Research, 19, 303–316.Google Scholar
  84. Richins, M. L., & Rudmin, F. W. (1994). Materialism and economic psychology. Journal of Economic Psychology, 15(2), 217–231.Google Scholar
  85. Robertson, K., McNeill, L., Green, J., & Roberts, C. (2012). Illegal downloading, ethical concern, and illegal behavior. Journal of Business Ethics, 108(2), 215–227.Google Scholar
  86. Rosenbaum, M. S., & Kuntze, R. (2003). The relationship between anomie and unethical retail disposition. Psychology & Marketing, 20, 1067–1093.Google Scholar
  87. Sandberg, J. (2015). Moral economy and normative ethics. Journal of Global Ethics, 11(2), 176–187.Google Scholar
  88. Schminke, M., Ambrose, M. L., & Neubaum, D. O. (2005). The effect of leader moral development on ethical climate and employee attitudes. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 97(2), 135–151.Google Scholar
  89. Schweitzer, M., & Gibson, D. (2008). Fairness, feelings, and ethical decision making: Consequences of violating community standards of fairness. Journal of Business Ethics, 77, 287–301.Google Scholar
  90. Singer, E., Von Thurn, D. R., & Miller, E. R. (1995). Confidentiality assurances and response: A quantitative review of the experimental literature. Public Opinion Quarterly, 59, 66–77.Google Scholar
  91. Souitaris, V., & Maestro, M. (2010). Polychronicity in top management teams: The impact on strategic decision processes and performance of new technology ventures. Strategic Management Journal, 31, 652–678.Google Scholar
  92. Sun, G., D’alessandro, S., & Johnson, L. (2014). Traditional culture, political ideologies, materialism and luxury consumption in China. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 38, 578–585.Google Scholar
  93. Sutter, C. J., Webb, J. W., Kistruck, G. M., & Bailey, A. V. G. (2013). Entrepreneurs’ responses to semi-formal illegitimate institutional arrangements. Journal of Business Venturing, 28(6), 743–758.Google Scholar
  94. Tonoyan, V., Strohmeyer, R., Habib, M., & Perlitz, M. (2010). Corruption and entrepreneurship: How formal and informal institutions shape small firm behavior in transition and mature market economies. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 34, 803–831.Google Scholar
  95. Tsang, J.-A., Carpenter, T. P., Roberts, J. A., Frisch, M. B., & Carlisle, R. D. (2014). Why are materialists less happy? The role of gratitude and need satisfaction in the relationship between materialism and life satisfaction. Personality and Individual Differences, 64, 62–66.Google Scholar
  96. Webb, J. W., Ireland, R. D., & Ketchen, D. J. (2014). Toward a greater understanding of entrepreneurship and strategy in the informal economy. Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 8, 1–15.Google Scholar
  97. Wiklund, J., Davidsson, P., Audretsch, D. B., & Karlsson, C. (2011). The future of entrepreneurship research. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 35, 1–9.Google Scholar
  98. Wilson, F., Kickul, J., & Marlino, D. (2007). Gender, entrepreneurial self-efficacy, and entrepreneurial career intentions: Implications for entrepreneurship education. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 31(3), 387–406.Google Scholar
  99. Xu, D., & Meyer, K. E. (2013). Linking theory and context: ‘Strategy research in emerging economies’ after Wright et al. (2005). Journal of Management Studies, 50, 1322–1346.Google Scholar
  100. Yan, S. (2015). China has a bigger middle class than America. Retrieved October 22, 2016.
  101. Yang, S., & Stening, B. W. (2012). Cultural and ideological roots of materialism in China. Social Indicators Research, 108(3), 441–452.Google Scholar
  102. Yin, J., & Quazi, A. (2016). Business ethics in the greater China region: Past, present, and future research. Journal of Business Ethics. doi: 10.1007/s10551-016-3220-9.Google Scholar
  103. Zhang, X., Zhong, W., & Makino, S. (2015). Customer involvement and service firm internationalization performance: An integrative framework. Journal of International Business Studies, 46(3), 355–380.Google Scholar
  104. Zhao, S. (2009). Government policies and private enterprise development in China: 2003–2006. China & World Economy, 17(4), 36–52.Google Scholar
  105. Zheng, Q., Luo, Y., & Wang, S. (2014). Moral degradation, business ethics, and corporate social responsibility in a transitional economy. Journal of Business Ethics, 120(3), 405–421.Google Scholar
  106. Zhou, J. Q., & Peng, M. W. (2012). Does bribery help or hurt firm growth around the world? Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 29(4), 907–921.Google Scholar
  107. Zou, M. (2015). Employment relations and social stratification in contemporary urban China: Does Goldthorpe’s class theory still work? Sociology, 49(6), 26–32.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Junzhe Ji
    • 1
  • Pavlos Dimitratos
    • 2
  • Qingan Huang
    • 3
  • Taoyong Su
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Management SchoolUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK
  2. 2.Adam Smith Business SchoolUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  3. 3.School of Business and LawUniversity of East LondonLondonUK
  4. 4.School of Economics and ManagementTongji UniversityShanghaiChina

Personalised recommendations