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A new poll conducted by the University of Birmingham, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues and Populus has revealed that most Britons report a decline in displays of ‘public virtue’ in society.

Out of a nationwide sample of over 2,000 participants, 63% reported seeing a decline in ‘public virtue’, defined as a ‘willingness to set aside private interests for the good of society’.

50% of responses also reported ‘rarely’ seeing examples of public virtue within their local community.

The poll, which sought to understand perceptions of ‘public virtue’ and ‘the common good’ amongst the British public, also revealed that almost 1 in 3 respondents – 30% – said most people in Britain do not contribute either ‘greatly’ or ‘at all’ towards the common good.

On a more positive note, values with a strong moral component, like honesty and compassion, were identified as more important than those which are performance-focused, such as confidence and resilience.

86% of those asked saw honesty as an important value to have, with compassion following behind at 76%. There was a significant drop between these two and the third most popular option, which was civility at 41%.

Within this question there were some clear demographic differences, with women more likely to select honesty and compassion than men. There were also differences in age, with older participants seeing honesty and civility as more important and younger participants emphasising confidence and curiosity.

Differences in social grade were surprising, if only slight. More participants from lower social grades (D and E) selected honesty (88%) than those from the more professional middle classes (85%), suggesting the role of ethical codes and training in professional occupations has limited effect.

This runs counter to previous Jubilee Centre research which has highlighted the importance of virtues such as honesty to professional education and practice.

These differences were more significant with regard to household income bracket , with those in the high income group (£55-76,000) reporting honesty as less important than those in low-middle.

This difference was statistically significant, with around 87% consistently reporting honesty as important across the low, low-average, and average-high income groups, then dropping down to 73% in the high income group.

There was also a significant gap between the ideal values participants saw as important, and those they felt were ‘most prized’ in British society.

Whilst 86% identified honesty as important, only 45% said it was actually ‘prized’ or rewarded in Britain, revealing a gap between the ideal and reality of 41%.

This finding was mirrored with compassion, with 76% identifying it as important and only 35% saying they felt it was valued.

For interview requests or for a copy of the report, please contact Rebecca Hume, Communications Manager, University of Birmingham on 0121 414 9041 or email the press office
For out of hours media enquiries, please call: +44 (0) 7789 921 165

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked among the world's top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues is a world-leader in rigorous academic research into character education. The Centre was founded in 2012 by Professor James Arthur.
  • Based at the University of Birmingham, it has a dedicated team of 30 academics, who specialise in a range of disciplines: philosophy, psychology, education, theology and sociology.
  • The Jubilee Centre operates on the basis that teaching good character, which can be demonstrated through moral virtues such as honesty, self-control, fairness, and respect, is possible and practicable. It is about equipping children and adults with the ability to make the right decisions.