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 177.

    Many of us live more separate lives than we used to. We don't go out so much, we do home shopping rather than buying from real live people, when we manage our finances we do it on-line rather than interacting with bank staff and so on. We exchange SMS rather than talking etc. Maybe this decreases our empathy for one another & may make more acts of dishonesty seem "victimless".?

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Honesty is always the best policy, no matter how much you may appear to be disadvantaged by it. A clear conscience is worth infinitely more to me than any amount of money, or anything else, in my pocket that was dishonestly come by.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    @163. Ceiswyn

    Very good comment and very well put. I totally agree. Nothing in the world is as black and white as this survey sets out to judge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    153. Eveline van der Steen. I don't think so, but then I can only speak for myself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    #116 You justify keeping found money because you need it, and because it is the difference between being warm or cold. Ever thought that it might make just the same difference to the person that dropped it?

  • Comment number 172.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    By dint of Christianity and the rule of law in equal part the British developed the most honest and least corrupt nation in the world, and it is no accident that the majority of the developed world has taken the legal system of England and Wales as their own model ( France being the exception). Multi-culturalism has brought in dishonesty and corruption, from footballers thru' to Alabanian mafia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    As usual these days with the BBC, a dimwitted article of spurious nonsense statistics and purporting to tar us all with the same brush.

    2,000 adults on some on-line survey represents the country, does it? Pseudo-science for publication in the Daily Mail, maybe, but that's all it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Years ago people were judged on how they acted and what they did, rich and poor.

    Now they're judged by how big their house is and how new their car. So long as the image is ok, you must be ok by modern standards

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    If I could not get a GP appointment today for my sick child because someone else had falsely claimed to be an emergency, I would be rather cross, to say the least.

    Many of our systems work on honesty – and where that is not likely we have to spend a fortune on checking up and prosecuting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    We used to have something called society where everybody looked out for one another and put the wellbeing of their community before their own wellbeing.

    Then along came margret (there is no such thing as society) thatcher who destroyed society. Now people put there own wellbeing first.

    We were improving things under Labour, but along came the tories and it is getting worse

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    Britons becoming more alienated from society you mean. I think most people are still basically decent and honest but don't regard some entities as deserving honesty any more because we either violently disagrees with them or don't trust them either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    I blame TV.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    Re:150 "The law demands that we atone
    When we take things we do not own"

    But CCTV evidence
    Is hard to find - and makes no sense
    I found that coin - it's mine to keep
    Long may the Loser LEARN and weep.

    I picked it up to clear the Street
    And keep my City clean and neat
    The coin bared not an owners name
    Methinks you would have done the same

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    This survey doesn't measure honesty.

    It measures absolute obedience to the law; which is /not/ the highest stage of moral reasoning (google Kohlberg). Above that is the stage of understanding that the law is less important than justice.

    So if a person says it's sometimes OK to steal, is that because they're dishonest or because they wouldn't lock up a starving man for stealing a loaf of bread?

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    We are bombarded relentlessly by negative news. A story about someone helping someone, or being generous or honest does not sell. Only lying, corruption and cheating are reported. This "message" is repeated so often it is the norm. This filters into other media, look at a soap, the characters have no morals or integrity. It is these that are young people's role models. God help us all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Maybe it's the fine example set by the politicians, police, clergy, media, so-called celebrities, etc, etc, etc.......!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    Everybody is going on about bankers and MPs, but how many of those same people think that people like Jordan, Kerry Katona, Amy Windhouse, Jade Goody, Cheryl Cole, Ryan Giggs, etc etc are good role models for kids? Serial divorcees, cheaters, drug addicts, assault convictions? And these people are glamourised and put on a pedestal. It should be shunned, not glamourised.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.


    "People are constantly told the lie, ... that they evolved from apes, "
    There's the problem; in that comment. People think they can make up their own truth in the face of all credible evidence and so move on to justify any selfish or ignorant act. Facts, fairness and responsibility have been sacrificed at the altar of the god of ego.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    five years ago, when collecting for a well known charity on the streets of London, I was handed £40 by a courier that told me he found it on the floor just a few feet away. I was genuinely touched and it goes to show not everyone is purely in it for themselves.


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