Ethics in small business: Attitudes and perceptions of small business owners/managers

W. B. Medlin III, Louisiana Tech University


The purpose of this study was to determine whether significant differences in ethical attitudes existed among various demographic and background categories of small business owners/managers. These categories included gender, age, education, experience, religious interests, industry, company size, company age, and occurrence of ethical dilemmas. A review of the literature revealed that the number of studies of ethics in small business was quite limited. Also, the majority of research in this area treated small business primarily as a category for comparison purposes. Therefore, a study focusing exclusively upon ethics within small firms was needed. To conduct this research, a questionnaire and cover letter was mailed to 400 firms in Southeast Arkansas. The 98 usable responses provided the data for the study. Part I of the questionnaire gathered select demographic and background information. Part II presented 16 ethical scenarios to which each respondent evaluated his/her degree of acceptability for each practice. Hypotheses were developed for potential differences among or between respondents within demographic or background categories. Either t-tests or one-way ANOVAs were used to determine if significant differences in ethical attitudes existed among owners/managers within these select groups for each ethical scenario. Results indicated that respondents tended to be more alike than different regarding ethical attitudes. However, specific ethical vignettes did result in a number of significant differences in ethical attitudes among owners/managers within the various background categories.