Money magazine engages that topic in all kinds of ways and discovers that people, for the most part, say they would do the right thing. That is, they wouldn't sleep with their boss to get ahead, or keep $2,000 that was deposited into their bank account by error, or avoid paying back the $5,000 that their brother-in-law loaned them, or steal supplies from work. The magazine posed these kinds of questions to a sample of 1,000 adults - most of whom, by the way, considered themselves very ethical when it came to money. Well, maybe. But surveys like this usually undercount bad behavior because lots of folks can't handle the truth about themselves. Look at what happened at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, where dozens of first-year students violated the honor code by collaborating on a take-home test that was supposed to be completed alone. From Money:
A neighbor borrows a power mower from the guy next door, and it dies on him. Should he pay to have it fixed? Or one friend lends another $1,200. But when it's payback time, the borrower needs the money for some other purpose. Should she repay the loan, no matter what the circumstances? In each of these situations, respondents held themselves to a higher standard than they held others to, putting generosity ahead of economic self-interest. A full 73 percent said they'd repay a loan on time even if it was difficult for them to do so, but only 40 percent expected to be paid on time if the tables were turned and they were lenders. In the mower scenario, half of borrowers said they would offer to pay the entire cost of repairs, but only 19 percent of mower owners thought the borrower should make such an offer.
The most striking distinctions are between men and women. Among people who believe the sexes behave differently when it comes to ethics, greater numbers of both men and women say women are more honorable (although women are likelier than men to think that's true). In fact, women are more likely than men to express concern about ethical issues (to say, for instance, they don't invest in companies that make products they disapprove of ) and to play by the rules (fewer women sneak into second movies at the multiplex or steal office supplies). They're also more likely than men to favor splitting their estates equally among the kids and to disapprove of attaching conditions to gifts of money.
Some sample questions on the jump.