Are people in bigger cities less ethical human beings? Evidence on urban living and moral values

Eric A. Morris, Deirdre Pfeiffer, John Gaber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


How might rising urbanization be affecting ethical norms and beliefs? This paper uses new World Values Survey data from 40 countries to answer this question. We find that living in more populous places is associated with greater exposure to crime and neighborhood disorder, lower likelihood of membership in charitable organizations, and lower religiosity. Residents of more populous places are no more likely to approve of ethically questionable behavior surrounding violence or money but may be more permissive in terms of sexual behavior. Contrary to the stereotype, we find no link between city size and the perceived importance of family. When imparting values to children, those in more populous places emphasize personal responsibility, individualism, and determination more, and obedience and work less. Finally, residents of more populous places are more tolerant of groups such as gays, immigrants, and those of other nationalities and religions. In all, bigger city ethics are associated with greater independence and personal freedom, though this may be both a good thing (greater tolerance of differences) and a bad one (higher crime).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103327
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • City size
  • Developing world
  • Ethics
  • Urban/rural
  • Urbanism
  • Values

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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