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Ethical reasoning differences between accountants and managers

Guangyou Liu (School of Business, Sun Yat‐sen University, Guangzhou, China)

Asia-Pacific Journal of Business Administration

ISSN: 1757-4323

Article publication date: 27 September 2011




The purpose of this paper is to test whether significant differences in ethical reasoning exist between Chinese accountants and managers when facing an ethical dilemma. Further tests are conducted to identify what professional contextual factors and personal value preferences can be introduced to explain the ethical reasoning differences observed.


Three research questions are raised and related hypotheses are developed and tested by the use of a defined issue test (DIT) instrument containing four hypothetical scenarios of different dilemmatic issues, and a Rokeach values survey questionnaire adapted to suit the Chinese business culture.


The findings and conclusions include: Chinese managers and accountants are not significantly differentiated in terms of ethical reasoning levels measured by the overall DIT instrument, however, the break‐down results of the DIT individual dilemmatic scenarios shows that significant differences exist between the two professional types in three out of four scenarios. Second, gender and frequency of making compromises are two significant contextual determinant of ethical reasoning levels of managers but not those of accountants, and for the accountants, no significant contextual factors are observed in the current study. Third, in determining the impacts of value preferences on ethical reasoning levels, the four‐factor classification approach produces a more contrasting result than the seven‐factor classification approach.

Research limitations/implications

The selection of the four scenarios in the DIT instrument is subjective according to the designation of the test, and Chinese business profession's ethical ideologies might differ among different regions. However, these research limitations might inspire further ethics research on cross‐regional comparisons in China and other emerging economies.

Practical implications

In Chinese surging markets, appropriate socio‐economic order can only be maintained by highly ethical reasoning and conduct on the part of business managers and accountants. The current results and findings would help to identify what factors and value preferences weigh more, in order to improve the professional ethicality.


This paper contributes to the research literature of business ethics by adding a managers‐accountants comparative study on ethical reasoning differences, especially the ethicality of two different professions in emerging economies; further, it includes contextual factors and value preferences in identifying those determinants of ethical reasoning differences.



Liu, G. (2011), "Ethical reasoning differences between accountants and managers", Asia-Pacific Journal of Business Administration, Vol. 3 No. 2, pp. 97-113.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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