Britons 'more dishonest than 10 years ago', study finds

Man with finger on lips Only one in three people were prepared to condemn lying in their own interests

Britons are less honest than they were a decade ago, research by academics at the University of Essex suggests.

The survey of more than 2,000 adults found that people were apparently more tolerant of lying and extramarital affairs than they were in 2000.

But it also found less tolerance of those that commit benefit fraud.

The online "integrity" study, which repeated questions asked in 2000, suggests young people are more likely to be dishonest than older people.

In 2011, those under the age of 25 scored an average of 47 points on an "integrity scale" while those over 65 scored an average of 54 points.

The average score for all age groups was 50.

The survey also suggests women have slightly more integrity than men, but social class and occupation does not have a significant effect on levels of honesty.

'Civic duty'

Start Quote

If integrity continues to decline in the future, then it will be very difficult to mobilise volunteers to support the Big Society initiative”

End Quote Professor Paul Whiteley Study author

Those who took part in the survey were asked to what extent a series of 10 activities were justified.

These included avoiding paying for public transport, keeping money found in the street, throwing litter and lying.

Their answers were then converted into an "integrity score" and compared to answers given by people who took the same test in 2000.

A decade ago, 70% of people said having an affair was never justified but this dropped to just 50% in 2011.

The proportion who said picking up money found in the street was never justified dropped from almost 40% a decade ago to less than 20% - while just one in three were prepared to condemn lying in their own interests.

The survey found that while 78% of people condemned benefit fraud in 2000, this had risen to 85% in 2011.

'Role models'

What would members of the public do when faced with various moral dilemmas?

Professor Paul Whiteley, the study's author and director of the Essex Centre for the Study of Integrity, said levels of integrity were important because they were linked to a person's sense of civic duty.

"If social capital is low and people are suspicious and don't work together, those communities have worse health, worse educational performance, they are less happy and they are less economically developed and entrepreneurial. It really does have a profound effect," he said.

"If integrity continues to decline in the future, then it will be very difficult to mobilise volunteers to support the Big Society initiative," he added.

Prof Whiteley also said he thought part of the reason young people were found to be more likely to be dishonest than older people was because "the role models are not very good".

"If you think about it, you know, footballers that cheat on their wives; some journalists that hack into phones; behaviour in the City, where people are selling financial instruments they think are no good but do not say so. These kind of things," he said.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Kids will lie about anything and everything, whether they benefit from it or not. They think it gives them power over the people they lie to.

    Why should we expect them to be any different as adults? It will be worse as they have more on the line.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    The decline of religion is incidental and, ultimately, a red herring in this debate. The blame should be fairly and squarely placed where it belongs. Not secularism, not Atheism but simple honest Bad Parenting.

    It's all too easy to blame others for perceived failures and all too easy to absolve oneself of responsibility. Perhaps it is now time for parents to buck up their ideas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    It could also be noted that with the influx of migrants from nations with deep seated levels of corruption and dishonesty have also been included in this new survey.
    Not necessarily opinions I hold but based upon this:
    Now compare.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Maybe they interviewed only people from Essex?

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Is dishonesty on the rise on did more people just answer the survey honestly? As you'll never know one way or the other the article seems a bit pointless.

    #86 despite being scored down is correct. Crime went through the roof in WW2. The blackout and cops being called up plus demand for off-ration goods fuelled it plus people live for today if they think they might be dead tomorrow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Our whole life is spent telling or being told lies. Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, Adam and Eve, the resurrection, Allah. All Lies with the purpose of making someone do something where logic fails.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    I used to be honest but it got me nowhere. I have now withdrawn goodwill and cooperation from Britain. I am completely honest when in another country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Lies, damned lies and statistics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Apart from the dubious nature of our political and business leaders morals we also need to look at ourselves and how the infantile selfishness of most adults is little different to children.

    Most young children do not take responisbility for their actions and are full of excuses and it is the same with many adults.

    It's about responsibility and accountability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    It must be the high principles exhibited by our leaders and role models such as MP's, bankers, TV celebs, personalities, sports people etc etc
    We all decry the falling standards but exactly how many of us try to live up to them in our private lives ? Parking in a disabled space, childrens space with no kinds on board, lie to the 'social', push in traffic. "Oh it doesn't matter !" Hypocrites !

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Given the dishonesty and greed of the political classes and bankers, is it any wonder that more of the public are at least being economical with the truth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Are things really any different from 50,60, 70 years ago??? - There was a documentary on TV a while ago showing how crime soared during the second world war (forget the dunkirk spirit) in Britain due to lack of police and lots of opportunities to steal etc. People are people and always have been - Good people, bad people have been around forever and will always continue to be

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Once an individual feels 'screwed over' the contract between the individual and society is broken. The same happens at work if you are not valued. Longer lunch breaks, time off for minor illness, stretched expenses, private photocopying. It all stems from a perceived imbalance. This phenomena is only going to get worse unless we see fair tangible demonstrations of 'we are all in this together'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    #76 . " Finders Keepers - Losers Weepers", the correct legal term is Stealing by Finding and is punishable like any other form of Theft.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Blame celebrity culture, footballers cheating on their wives, banker's greed, immoral celebrities, where the likes of Kim Kardashian are worshipped.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    78 Keith No, if seriously injured my first thought would be 'is everyone else OK?' then hospital. If no one hurt, I'd count my blessings..

    Not a personal injury lawyer are you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    The only part of the politicians' Trickle Down Theory that actually happened.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    It would be interesting to see how Britain compares with other countries. Are we less honest than, say, New Zealand, or more honest than France?

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Comments 73 and 74 are excellent, I suspect comment 69 will trample over his own mother to get on that lifeboat ... nice :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Here's an integrity question that should have been included: "If you were in a minor car accident that was not your fault, would your first reaction be 'My back/neck/shoulder hurts, I want hundereds (or thousands) of pounds in compensation'?".

    This seems to be the norm these days and we are all paying for it.


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