Do values change over time? An exploratary study of business majors.

Author:Bible, Lynn


Ethics and values have become important issues in recent years due to the exposure created from accounting misconduct and misrepresented financial statements from some of the United States' largest companies. The best publicized of these was the Enron/Arthur Anderson case, which in the end lead to the demise of both companies, with Enron filing for bankruptcy and Arthur Anderson ceasing to exist. Other cases of improper accounting include WorldCom, Waste Management, Sunbeam, Tyco, Adelphia, and Global Crossing. At the center of these cases are the managers who prepare and approve the financial statements and the accountants who audit the financial statements.

Value can be defined in a variety of different ways, but can be summarized as the attitudes, beliefs, and principles which guide an individual in making decisions based on how the ultimate outcome effects themselves. Schwartz (1992) defines values as "desirable goals varying in importance that serve as guiding principles in peoples' lives." It stands to reason that if values guide and/or influence behaviors then values are an important variable in ethical behavior and decision making.

In addition, some research has found that ethical behavior can change over time (see Akers & Giacomino 2000, Clikeman & Henning 2000, Earley & Kelly 2004) with education or experience. Giacomino & Akers (1998) explain, "to provide meaningful guidance regarding values, educators and administrators, in addition to having an understanding of values, should have an awareness of social influences and the importance of values in business. Society can influence the students' values prior to and during college, while businesses can influence employees' values throughout their professional careers." The question arises whether today's students have adjusted or changed their values in lieu of the recent exposure to the numerous accounting scandals.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the values and value types of business majors using the Schwartz (1992) Value Survey that measures the importance of specific values. The Schwartz (1992) Value Survey is one of the most widely used instrument for measuring personal values (see Lan et al., 2013; Lan et al., 2008; Boer & Fisher, 2013; Nistor & Hut, 2011; Verkasalo et al., 2009; Myyry, 2008; Lindeman & Verkasalo, 2005; Davidov et al., 2008; Schwartz & Sagiv, 1995). While there have been numerous studies using the Survey, an understanding of whether values change over time is still not clear.

The inclusion of ethical topics within the business curriculum has increased within the last decade following the Enron/Anderson scandal. Many universities have developed separate courses on business ethics and textbooks typically include ethical issues within the chapters. The objective of this study is to explore whether this heighten awareness of ethical issues has altered business majors values between the period of 2004 and 2010.

The next section of this paper will review relevant research on the Schwartz Value Survey (1992), changing values, and gender. Research methodology is the subject of the third section, and the fourth presents the results of the survey. The final section will discuss the results, limitations of the survey, and suggestions for future research.


The Schwartz (1992) Value Survey

Schwartz (1992) studies a set of 56 human values across different cultures. The outcome of the study provides a two-dimensional model that classifies values according to their motivational types and explains the compatibilities and tensions between these values. Using samples of undergraduate university students and school teachers across 20 different countries, Schwartz (1992) finds that human values result from ten motivational needs (also called motivational types or value types): self-direction, stimulation, hedonism, achievement, power, security, conformity, tradition, benevolence, and universalism. Furthermore, the author finds that these motivational types could be defined along two categories. There are motivational types that promote individualism (self-direction, stimulation, hedonism, achievement and power) and those that promote collectivism (benevolence, tradition, and conformity). Meanwhile, universalism and security are motivational types that serve both purposes. The presence of compatibilities between motivational types within each category and conflicts between motivational types across the two categories confirm that humans - to a certain extent - are guided by either individualistic or collective interests.

Schwartz (1992) presents an alternate view of his model based on the conflict between the motivational types. Motivational types could be rearranged to form four high-order value types drawn along two bipolar dimensions. The first dimension represents the continuum between openness (a combination of stimulation and self-direction) versus conservation (security, conformity, and tradition). This continuum measures the extent to which individuals embrace an environment endorsing the fulfillment of emotional and intellectual interests versus an environment promoting the certainty provided by the status quo. The second dimension is the continuum between self-enhancement (power, achievement, and hedonism) versus self-transcendence (universalism and benevolence). This dimension represents the conflict between individuals' aggressiveness in pursuing their self-interests in contrast to their willingness to dispense with their selfish demands in return for others' welfare.

The Schwartz (1992) Value Survey has enabled a string of research to study the determinants of these human values, understand their impact on personal behaviors and attitudes, or to draw value profiles for certain populations (see Lan et al., 2013; Lan et al., 2008; Boer & Fisher, 2013; Nistor & Ilut, 2011; Verkasalo et al., 2009; Myyry, 2008; Lindeman & Verkasalo, 2005; Davidov et al., 2008; Schwartz & Sagiv, 1995). For example, Boer & Fischer (2013) study the impact of personal values on attitudes. They find that values promoting self-transcendence are associated with traits like care, and fairness. While self-enhancement values are negatively associated with fairness; they are positively associated with individuals' attitudes towards authority and political membership. Values of conservation are also associated with positive views towards authority; in addition, they promote attitudes of purity and religiosity.

Other studies attempt to understand the importance of values at the work place. Lan et al. (2013) examine the relation between Chinese accounting practitioners' values and their work orientation. Employees may view their work as Jobs (way to acquire material benefits), Careers (mean to acquire power and climb social rankings), or Callings (an appreciative view to the value of work in one's life). The authors find that values associated with self-enhancement (in this case hedonism and achievement) are associated with employees' view of their work as Career. In contrast, self-transcendence values (benevolence) are associated with employees viewing their work as Callings.

Alternatively, Nistor & Ilut (2011) use the Schwartz (1992) proposition to draw a value profile of individuals in Hungary and Romania. By comparing values at the national level, they find that security (a conservation type of value) is the highest ranked value in both countries. They also suggest that self-transcendence values are the most important in both countries as they find that benevolence and universalism rank highly in both Hungary and Romania. Though there are similarities between value systems in both countries, the author find that the level of self-transcendence is higher in Hungary than in Romania; thus, providing further evidence that cultural factors may impact values.


Whether value can change over time or not and what the determinants of this change are is still a question that remains largely unanswered. Rokeach (1973) proposed that personal experiences can impact values both at the individual socialite level. An event experienced by the individual alone may change his values, while an event experience by all of society (such as war) would change an entire society's values (Rokeach, 1973). Haydon (2004) questions the quality and sustainability of the ethical environments we live in and presumes that they are subject to change. Haydon (2004) believes that education plays an important role in preserving the ethical environment from degradation; therefore, he proposes that the ethical environment should be continuously evaluated. The paper highlights the role of governments in providing educational programs that promote the ethical environment and emphasizes the important role of teacher in conveying values to the younger generations.

Bardi et al. (2009) examine value change over time. They argue that the conflicting natures of individualistic and collective values imply that humans might assign different weights to these values prior to making choices. Therefore, albeit prior research suggests that values are stable over time, these weights could change over time to accommodate situational changes. Using a sample of German school students, the authors measure the change in their values using the Schwartz (1992) Value Survey across two different points in time at the start and end of a school year. Their main findings show that students experience an escalation of self-enhancement values (power and achievement) and a decline in self-transcendence values (universalism and benevolence) over time. Similar results are also found with slightly older subjects tested in a different country. Further tests with adult subjects could not provide evidence of value change at older ages; the author only finds a positive change in hedonism values over time. Further examination reveals that subjects who experienced life-changing...

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