Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 71, Issue 1, pp 73–87 | Cite as

Ethical Attitudes of Accountants: Recent Evidence from a Practitioners’ Survey

  • Tisha L. N. Emerson
  • Stephen J. Conroy
  • Charles W. Stanley


Recent highly publicized ethical breaches including those at Enron and WorldCom have focused attention on ethical behavior within the accounting profession. At the heart of the debate is whether ethical attitudes of accountants are to blame. Using a nationally representative sample of accounting practitioners and a multidisciplinary student sample at two Southern United States universities, we compare sample responses to 25 ethically charged vignettes to test whether they differ. Overall, we find no significant difference – even for a specific “accounting tricks” vignette, which resembles the Enron and WorldCom situations. We do find, however, that the practitioners were more accepting of vignettes that involved physical harm (PH) to individuals and those that were legal (but ethically questionable). We postulate that accounting practitioners may apply a legalistic framework to their assessment of the acceptability of each vignette. Focusing on an “accounting tricks” vignette, we also find no significant difference between auditors and institutional practitioners compared to all other types of accountants in the sample. We conclude that ethical attitudes of accounting practitioners do not differ significantly by specialty area.


accountants accounting practitioners accounting scandals business ethics Enron empirical analysis of business ethics ethical attitudes 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. AICPA: 2004, ‘Preamble: AICPA Code of Professional Conduct’, retrieved August 16, 2004 at
  2. Allmon D. E., Page D., Roberts R. (2000) Determinants of Perceptions of Cheating: Ethical Orientation, Personality and Demographics. Journal of Business Ethics 23:411–422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arlow, P. and T. Ulrich: 1980, ‚Business Ethics, Social Responsibility and Business Students: An Empirical Comparison of Clark’s Study’, Akron Business and Economic Review Fall, 17–22Google Scholar
  4. Armstrong, M. B.: 1987, ‚Moral Development and Accounting Education’, Journal of Accounting Education Spring, 27–43Google Scholar
  5. Barnett T., Bass K., Brown G. (1996) Religiosity, Ethical Ideology, and Intentions to Report a Peer’s Wrongdoing. Journal of Business Ethics 15:1161–1174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beasley, M. S. and D. R. Hermanson: 2004, ‚Going Beyond Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance: Five Keys to Creating Value’, CPA Journal 74(6), 11–13Google Scholar
  7. Bernardi R. A., Bean D. F., Massey D. W. (2004) The Influence of Political Ideology on DIT Scores: Fact or Artifact?. Research on Professional Responsibility and Ethics in Accounting 9:21–48Google Scholar
  8. Bies, S.: 2002, Speech at the National Conference on Banks and Savings Institutions, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Washington, D.C., November 7Google Scholar
  9. Borkowski S., Ugras Y. (1992) The Ethical Attitudes of Students as a Function of Age, Sex and Experience. Journal of Business Ethics 11:961–979CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Borkowski S., Ugras Y. (1998) Business Students and Ethics: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Business Ethics 17:1117–1127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brown, J.: 2002, ‚The Philadelphia Inquirer Personal Finance Column’, Knight Ridder Tribune Business News, December 12, 1Google Scholar
  12. Burns J. O., Kiecker P. (1995) Tax Practitioner Ethics: An Empirical Investigation of Organizational Consequences. Journal of the American Tax Association 17(2):20Google Scholar
  13. Callahan, S.: 1990, ‚Is Gender Germane?’, Health Progress 71(1), 21–24Google Scholar
  14. Clark J. (1966) Religion and the Moral Standards of American Businessmen. South-Western Publishing Co., CincinnatiGoogle Scholar
  15. Cohen J., Pant L., Sharp D. (1993) A Validation and Extension of a Multidimensional Ethics Scale. Journal of Business Ethics 12:13–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cohen J., Pant L., Sharp D. (1995) An International Comparison of Moral Constructs Underlying Auditors’ Ethical Judgments. Research on Accounting Ethics 1:97–126Google Scholar
  17. Cohen J. R., Pant L. W., Sharp D. J. (1996) Measuring the Ethical Awareness and Ethical Orientation of Canadian Auditors. Behavioral Research in Accounting 8(Supplement):98–119Google Scholar
  18. Cohen J. R, Pant L. W., Sharp D. J. (2001) An Examination of Differences in Ethical Decision-Making Between Canadian Business Students and Accounting Professionals. Journal of Business Ethics 30:319–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Conroy S. J., Emerson T. L. N. (2004) Business Ethics and Religion: Religiosity as a Predictor of Ethical Awareness among Students. Journal of Business Ethics 50(4):383–396CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cross, R. L.: 2002, ‚The Right to Practice: A Resource for Affiliated State Organizations and Members’, National Public Accountant November, 32–33Google Scholar
  21. Cruz C. A., Shafer W. E., Strawser J. R. (2000) A Multidimensional Analysis of Tax Practitioners’ Ethical Judgments. Journal of Business Ethics 24(3):223–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Duizend J., McCann G. K. (1998) Do Collegiate Business Students Show a Propensity to Engage in Illegal Business Practices?. Journal of Business Ethics 17:229–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Elias R. Z (2002) Determinants of Earnings: Management Ethics Among Accountants. Journal of Business Ethics 40:33–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Emerson T.N., Conroy S.J. (2004) Have Ethical Attitudes Changed? An Intertemporal Comparison of the Ethical Perceptions of College Students in 1985 and 2001. Journal of Business Ethics 50(2):167–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Eynon G., Hill N. T., Stevens K. T. (1997) Factors that Influence the Moral Reasoning Abilities of Accountants: Implications for Universities and the Profession. Journal of Business Ethics 16:1297–1309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Farling M. L., Winston B. E. (2001) A Replication Study: ‚Attitudes Toward Ethics: A View of the College Student’. Teaching Business Ethics 5:251–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Flory S. M., Phillips T. J., Reidenbach E. R., Robin D. P. (1991) A Multidimensional Analysis of Selected Ethical Issues in Accounting. The Accounting Review 67(2):284–302Google Scholar
  28. Flory S. M., Phillips T. J., Reidenbach E. R., Robin D. P. (1993) A Reply to ‚A Multidimensional Analysis of Selected Ethical Issues in Accounting’. The Accounting Review 68(2):417–421Google Scholar
  29. Fritzsche, D. and H. Becker: 1982, ‚Business Ethics of Future Marketing Managers’, Journal of Marketing Education 4(2), 2–7Google Scholar
  30. Grant, E. W. Jr. and L. S. Broom: 1988, ‚Attitudes Towards Ethics: A View of the College Student’, Journal of Business Ethics 7, 617–619Google Scholar
  31. Harris J. (1991) Ethical Values and Decision Processes of Business and Non-Business Students: A Four-Group Study. Journal of Legal Studies Education 9:215–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Healy P. M., Palepu K. G. (2003) The Fall of Enron. Journal of Economic Perspectives 17(Spring):3–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Jeffrey C. (1993) Ethical Development of Accounting Students, Non-Accounting Business Students, and Liberal Arts Students. Issues in Accounting Education 8(1):86–96Google Scholar
  34. Jones J., Massey D. W., Thorne L. (2003) Auditors’ Ethical Reasoning: Insights from Past Research and Implications for the Future. Journal of Accounting Literature 22:45–103Google Scholar
  35. Jones S. J., Ponemon L. A. (1993) A Comment on ‚A Multidimensional Analysis of Selected Ethical Issues in Accounting’. The Accounting Review 68(2):411–416Google Scholar
  36. Kantor J., Weisberg J. (2002) Ethical Attitudes and Ethical Behavior: Are Managers Role Models? International Journal of Manpower 23(8):687–703CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Keller C. (1988) From a Broken Web: Separation, Sexism and Self. Beacon Press, BostonGoogle Scholar
  38. King P. M., Mayhew M. J. (2002) Moral Judgement Development in Higher Education: Insights from the Defining Issues Test. Journal of Moral Education 31(3):247–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kohlberg L. (1981) The Philosophy of Moral Development: Moral Stages and the Idea of Justice. Harper & Row, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  40. Lampe J. C., Finn D. W. (1992) A Model of Auditors’ Ethical Decision Processes. Auditing: A Journal of Practice and Theory 11(supplement):33–59Google Scholar
  41. Lampe J. C., Finn D. W. (1994) Teaching Ethics in Accounting Curricula. Business and Professional Ethics Journal 13(1&2):89–128Google Scholar
  42. Longenecker, J. G., J. A. McKinney, and C. W. Moore: 1989, ‚Ethics in Small Business’, Journal of Small Business Management 27(1), 27–31Google Scholar
  43. Maddala G. (1983) Limited-Dependent and Qualitative Variables in Econometrics. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  44. Massey D. W. (2002) The Importance of Context in Investigating Auditors’ Moral Abilities. Research on Accounting Ethics 8:195–247Google Scholar
  45. McCuddy M. K. and B. L. Peery (1996) Selected Individual Differences and Collegians’ Ethical Beliefs. Journal of Business Ethics 15:261–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Miesing P., Preble J. (1985) A Comparison of Five Business Philosophies. Journal of Business Ethics 4:465–476CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ponemon L. A. (1992) Ethical Reasoning and Selection-Socialization in Accounting. Accounting, Organizations and Society 17(3/4):239–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Ponemon L., Glazer A. (1990) Accounting Education and Ethical Development: The Influence of Liberal Learning on Students and Alumni in Accounting Practice. Issues in Accounting Education 5(2):195–208Google Scholar
  49. Reidenbach R. E., Robin D. P. (1990) Toward the Development of a Multidimensional Scale for Improving Evaluations of Business Ethics. Journal of Business Ethics 9:639–653CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Reidenbach R. E., Robin D. P. (1988) Some Initial Steps Toward Improving the Measurement of Ethical Evaluations of Marketing Activities. Journal of Business Ethics 7:871–879CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rest J. (1986) Moral Development: Advances in Research and Theory. Praeger, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  52. St. Pierre, K. E., E. S. Nelson, A. L. Gabbin: 1990, ‚A␣Study of the Ethical Development of Accounting Majors in Relation to Other Business and Nonbusiness Disciplines’, The Accounting Educators’ Journal Summer, 23–35Google Scholar
  53. Shaub M. K. (1994) An Analysis of the Association of Traditional Demographic Variables with the Moral Reasoning of Auditing Students and Auditors. Journal of Accounting Education 12(1):1–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Siu N. Y. M., Dickinson J. R., Lee B. Y. Y. (2000) Ethical Evaluations of Business Activities and Personal Religiousness. Teaching Business Ethics 4:239–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Smith P., Oakley E. (1996) The Value of Ethics Education in Business School Curriculum. College Student Journal 30(3):274–283Google Scholar
  56. Smith P., Oakley E. (1997) Gender-Related Differences in Ethical and Social Values of Business Students: Implications for Management. Journal of Business Ethics 16:37–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Stevens, G.: 1984, ‚Business Ethics and Social Responsibility: The Response of Present and Future Managers’, Akron Business and Economic Review, 6–11Google Scholar
  58. Sweeney J. T. (1995) The Moral Expertise of Auditors: An Explanatory Analysis. Research on Accounting Ethics 1:213–234Google Scholar
  59. Thorne L. (2000) The Development of Two Measures to Assess Accountants’ Prescriptive and Deliberative Moral Reasoning. Behavioral Research in Accounting 12:139–169Google Scholar
  60. Terpstra D., Rozell E., Robinson R. (1993) The Influence of Personality and Demographic Variables on Ethical Decisions Related to Insider Trading. Journal of Psychology 127(4):375–390Google Scholar
  61. Weber J., Gillespie J. (1998) Differences in Ethical Beliefs, Intentions, and Behaviors: The Role of Beliefs and Intentions in Ethics Research Revisited. Business and Society 37(4):447–467Google Scholar
  62. Wolkomir M., Futreal M., Woodrum E., Hoban T. (1997) Substantive Religious Belief and Environmentalism. Social Science Quarterly 78(1):96–108Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tisha L. N. Emerson
    • 1
  • Stephen J. Conroy
    • 2
  • Charles W. Stanley
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsBaylor UniversityWacoU.S.A.
  2. 2.School of Business AdministrationUniversity of San DiegoSan DiegoU.S.A.
  3. 3.Department of Accounting and Business LawBaylor UniversityWacoU.S.A.

Personalised recommendations