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Materialism, social stratification, and ethics: evidence from SME owners in China

Taoyong Su (Department of Business Administration, Tongji University, Shanghai, China)
Junzhe Ji (Management School, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Qingan Huang (International Business School, Guangdong University of Economics and Finance, Guangzhou, China) (School of Business and Law, University of East London, London, UK)
Lei Chen (Management School, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)

International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research

ISSN: 1355-2554

Article publication date: 5 September 2018

Issue publication date: 4 April 2019




The study of business ethics has seldom shed light on small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) despite their theoretical and practical significance. Drawing from strain perspective, the purpose of this paper is to address this insufficiency and investigate SME owners’ ethical attitudes toward money-related deviances.


Based on a large sample of 741 Chinese SMEs, an OLS regression analysis was employed to test associated hypotheses. The robustness of results was additionally checked.


The results suggest that for stratification variables, education level is positively related to ethical attitudes, whereas household income level is surprisingly negatively associated with ethical attitudes; for materialism facets, success and happiness exert a negative impact on ethical attitudes as hypothesized, but centrality has no associated impact.

Research limitations/implications

This study has examined both structural and motivational sources of personal strains on the ethical attitude of SME owners, while the characteristics of these strains could be explored in the future studies.


This study advances and complements the dominant behavior approach that emphasizes cognitive and other psychological processes in explaining individual ethical attitudes. It is also seemingly the first study to examine the influence of three materialism facets on entrepreneurial ethical attitudes.



This study was partly supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 71402121) and the Research Foundation of Humanities and Social Sciences for Young Scholars by the Ministry of Education of China (Grant No. 15YJC630040).


Su, T., Ji, J., Huang, Q. and Chen, L. (2019), "Materialism, social stratification, and ethics: evidence from SME owners in China", International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 499-517.



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