Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 319–336 | Cite as

An Examination of Differences in Ethical Decision-Making Between Canadian Business Students and Accounting Professionals

  • Jeffrey R. Cohen
  • Laurie W. Pant
  • David J. Sharp


This study investigates the differences in individuals' ethical decision making between Canadian university business students and accounting professionals. We examine the differences in three measures known to be important in the ethical decision-making process: ethical awareness, ethical orientation, and intention to perform questionable acts. We tested for differences in these three measures in eight different questionable actions among three groups: students starting business studies, those in their final year of university, and professional accountants.

The measures of awareness capture the extent to which respondents felt that a particular action was unethical according to each of several ethical criteria. We found few differences between the two student groups on these measures, suggesting that their education had minimal effect on raising their awareness of the ethical issues in the vignettes. Indeed, overall, the graduating student's scores were marginally lower than those of the entry-level students. However, the professionals viewed some actions as significantly less ethical than did the graduating students.

The measures of ethical orientation capture the weight respondents placed on each of the criteria above in their evaluation of the overall morality of an action. The differences between the three groups were generally small, and were a function of the vignette, consistent with Jones' (1991) model of issue-contingent ethical reasoning.

The measures of intention capture the extent to which a respondent perceives that s/he would perform the action. There were significant differences between the groups in three of the eight vignettes, driven by a difference between the professionals and the other two student groups. The awareness measures were strong predictors of intention. We discuss the implications of these findings for professional training and future research.

ethical awareness and multidimensional ethics scale ethical orientation selection and socialization 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeffrey R. Cohen
    • 1
  • Laurie W. Pant
    • 2
  • David J. Sharp
    • 3
  1. 1.Carroll School of ManagementBoston CollegeChestnut Hill
  2. 2.Sawyer School of ManagementSuffolk UniversityU.S.A
  3. 3.Richard Ivey School of BusinessThe University of Western OntarioU.S.A

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