In view of the numerous accounting and corporate scandals associated with various forms of moral misconduct and the recent financial crisis, economics and business programs are often accused of actively contributing to the amoral decision making of their graduates. It is argued that theories and ideas taught at universities engender moral misbehavior among some managers, as these theories mainly focus on the primacy of profit-maximization and typically neglect the ethical and moral dimensions of decision making. To investigate this criticism, two overlapping effects must be disentangled: the self-selection effect and the treatment effect. Drawing on the concept of moral judgment competence, we empirically examine this question with a sample of 1,773 bachelor’s and 501 master’s students. Our results reveal that there is neither a self-selection nor a treatment effect for economics and business studies. Moreover, our results indicate that – regardless of the course of studies – university education in general does not seem to foster students' moral development.
At the beginning of the fall semester 2013 we surveyed 3,155 Bachelor and Master students enrolled in different subjects of studies at the University of Zurich (UZH). During the first three weeks of the semester we visited Bachelor and Master courses that covered six of the seven faculties of the university: the Faculty of Theology, the Faculty of Law, the Faculty of Economics and Business, the Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Science. At the Bachelor level, we concentrated on lectures that are mandatory and distinctly recommended to be accomplished in the first semester of studies. For the investigation of the treatment effect, we concentrate on students at the beginning of their Master studies. In total, we visited eleven Bachelor and sixteen Master courses during the first three weeks of the semester. At the end of the lecture, students were asked to fill in a paper and pencil questionnaire on a voluntary basis. Due to incomplete answers we had to exclude 881 questionnaires from our final sample.
We would like to thank all lecturers who supported our study by providing their valuable lecture time for conducting this survey. Moreover, we would like to express our gratitude to all students who participated in this study. In addition, we thank Markus Huppenbauer, Carmen Tanner, and Rainer Winkelmann for their helpful comments on previous versions of the paper.
The manuscript of the final publication is available here:
The final publication is available at Springer: