Are Values on the Decline?

AMONG the greatest gifts parents can give to their children are unconditional love and a set of values that the parents live by and do not just lecture about.

Without proper values, life is little more than a crude struggle for survival. Values give meaning to life. They establish priorities. They set moral boundaries and define rules of behavior.

Even so, many traditional values are changing rapidly. For example, Professor Ronald Inglehart says that “society is moving toward sexual norms that give wider latitude for individual sexual gratification and individual self-expression.” A 1997 Gallup survey in 16 countries asked residents for their stand on the morality of out-of-wedlock births. Reports Gallup: “Acceptance of this modern lifestyle trend ranges from 90% or more in parts of Western Europe to under 15% in Singapore and India.”

Some have praised this new sexual freedom. However, The Rise of Government and the Decline of Morality, by James A. Dorn, cites “the prevalence of out-of-wedlock births” and “the breakup of families” as “obvious signs of moral decay.”

Other Deteriorating Values

Other long-held values have also suffered a notable decline. The World Values Survey, headed by Professor Inglehart, reports a “declining respect for authority” in industrialized lands.

Another traditional value has been a strong work ethic. However, there is evidence that this too is suffering a decline. In the United States, the National Federation of Independent Business surveyed over half a million employers. “Thirty-one percent of those polled said that filling job openings was hard, and 21 percent said the quality of labor was generally poor.” One employer says: “It’s getting harder to find workers who come to work for more than one day, on time, and sober.”

 Economic forces may drive this downward trend. As profits dwindle, employers lay off workers or cut certain benefits. Says the journal Ethics & Behavior: “Workers experiencing this lack of loyalty and commitment begin to exhibit corresponding negative behavior toward their employers. The commitment to work hard is absent because tomorrow the worker might not be employed.”

Still another area in which values have declined noticeably is manners and civility. A survey in Australia concluded: “Over 87.7% of employees reported [that] bad manners in the office are affecting staff morale.” In a U.S. survey of business professionals, “eighty percent of respondents reported an increase in rudeness in business.” According to the CNN news agency, “poor customer service has become so rampant that nearly half of those surveyed said they have walked out of a store in the past year because of it. Half said they often see people talking on cellular telephones in a loud or annoying manner. And six drivers in 10 said they regularly see other people driving aggressively or recklessly.”

How Valuable Is Human Life?

In some cases, people say that they have embraced certain “values,” but their words do not necessarily translate into action. For example, the Institute for Global Ethics polled representatives from 40 countries. Forty percent chose “reverence for life” as being among the top five “most important” values. *

However, what happens in actual practice? Industrialized nations certainly have the resources to eliminate much human suffering. But a book written by Carol Bellamy, executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund, noted in 1998 that malnutrition  “plays a role in more than half of the nearly 12 million deaths each year of children under five in developing countries, a proportion unmatched since the Black Death ravaged Europe in the 14th century.” Such reports are alarming to anyone who cherishes human life. “Yet,” observes Bellamy, “the worldwide crisis of malnutrition has stirred little public alarm, despite substantial and growing scientific evidence of the danger. More attention is lavished on the gyrations of world stock markets than on malnutrition’s vast destructive potential​—or on the equally powerful benefits of sound nutrition.”

A curiously skewed view of life is evident in the medical community. As recently as the early 1970’s, a baby born after just 23 weeks in the womb had almost no chance of survival. Today, perhaps up to 40 percent of such premature babies can survive. In view of this, how ironic it is that worldwide an estimated 40 to 60 million abortions occur every year! The majority of these abortions are performed on fetuses just weeks younger than the premature infants doctors struggle to keep alive! Does not the above suggest that great moral confusion prevails?

Needed​—A Moral Compass

When asked, “What matters least in life?” the majority of those polled by the Gallup organization chose “being faithful to my religion” as one of the two least important things. Not surprisingly, then, church attendance continues to decline. Professor Inglehart suggests that the prosperity of Western lands has “produced an unprecedented sense of security” and that “this has diminished the need for the reassurance that religion traditionally provided.”

Declining confidence in organized religion is paralleled by a loss of confidence in the Bible. In one international survey, respondents were asked whom or what they relied upon when it came to knowing what is morally right. The vast majority cited personal experience. “God’s word was a very distant second,” says the survey report.

Little wonder that values are changing for the worse! A lack of a moral compass, along with an increasing emphasis on materialistic goals and selfish individualism, has promoted a culture of greed and indifference to the feelings of others. What important things have been lost as a result of these changes?


^ par. 12 Over 50 years ago, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 1 of that Declaration states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

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Family breakups, poor work ethics, and unruly behavior characterize today’s declining values

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Millions of babies, just a few weeks younger than this premature infant, are aborted every year