Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 38, Issue 1–2, pp 179–192 | Cite as

Tapping the Source of Moral Approbation: The Moral Referent Group

  • Lori Verstegen Ryan
  • Mark A. Ciavarella


A recent contribution to the moral decision-making literature argues that individuals' moral behavior is partially shaped by the amount of moral approbation they expect to receive from their moral referent groups (Jones and Ryan, 1997). This paper examines the nature and content of these previously underexamined sources of moral guidance. In an open-ended empirical test of undergraduate business students (n = 369), we found that 1) significant differences exist between individuals' moral referent groups and work-related referent groups, 2) females were more likely than males to include themselves in their moral referent groups, 3) females were more likely than males to be designated as moral referents, and 4) females were more likely to be included in moral referent groups than in work-related referent groups. The paper also includes a general description of the membership of these business subjects' moral referent groups and presents a variety of suggestions for future research.

gender differences moral approbation moral decision making moral referent groups 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lori Verstegen Ryan
    • 1
  • Mark A. Ciavarella
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Management, College of Business AdministrationSan Diego State UniversitySan DiegoU.S.A.
  2. 2.Department of Management, Terry College of BusinessUniversity of GeorgiaAthensU.S.A.

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