Something to Think About: Why Are Young People So Cynical and What Does This Say About the Future?

Agree or disagree? “In today’s society, one has to lie or cheat at least occasionally in order to succeed.”

This is a fundamental and revealing question on our surveys about personal ethics and integrity. Most interesting is that the level of cynicism is closely related to age. In an online survey on integrity (with 16,000 responses) we found that 43 percent of the respondents age 17 and under (there were 862 of them) believe lying is sometimes necessary, 35 percent of those in the 18-24 age group agreed, and 21 percent of those 25-40 agreed. But the percentage drops sharply after that: 12 percent of those 41-50, and only 10 percent of those over 50, think lying is necessary to success. (By the way, the survey is available here if you want to take it yourself.)

It turns out that your answer to this question really matters. The more cynical you are about the efficacy of honesty, the more likely you are to justify dishonesty. In fact, those who agree with the statement are 2-4 times more likely to cheat on exams, cheat on taxes, lie to a spouse or boss or inflate an insurance claim.

So, are things getting worse? Or do you just have to live a while to realize how unnecessary lying really is? Maybe it’s a little of both.

Where do you stand on the question, and how would you explain the huge disparity based on age?

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