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 191.

    But surely - by it's very definition it's technically impossible to obtain an accurate figure for dishonesty? I mean I'm totally honest (Lie number 12,356)

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    These questions aren't testing people's morality, they're testing adherence to the law. All the areas questioned are generally bad, but would you drive after a couple glasses of wine if a mate had a heart attack & the ambulance couldn't get to you quickly? Morally I would call that the right thing to do, legally it is not. The world is not black and white, exceptional circumstances always exist

  • 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 116.

    I cant believe that there are many of us who were walking down a street and found £20 would not stick it in there pocket regardless of your moral stature it is something you can ill afford to have these days. To many people its the difference of being warm or cold for those in genuine hardship why shouldnt they tell a lie if its going to ease the burden.

  • 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


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