Canadians say our moral values are weakening four-to-one over those who say they’re getting stronger

Canadians say our moral values are weakening four-to-one over those who say they’re getting stronger
Most Canadians see cheating on partners & cheating on taxes as morally unacceptable

January 13, 2016 – Just one-in-ten Canadians see moral values strengthening in this country, while the vast majority agree that having an affair is “morally unacceptable.”

Beyond that, an Angus Reid Institute publicAngus Reid poll of Morality in Canada opinion poll finds a country divided by gender, age, region and religious belief when it comes to the state of morality today.

The survey asked Canadians where their own moral code comes from, how they implement it, and in certain specific situations, what is – and isn’t – morally acceptable.

Key Findings:

  • Canadians generally see morality in this country as either stagnating (44%) or getting weaker (47%)
  • Large majorities of Canadians view marital infidelity and tax dodging as “morally wrong”
  • Men and women vastly differ on the morality of issues relating to sex and sex work, with a full majority of men (52%), for example, saying watching pornography is morally acceptable and an even-larger majority of women (56%) saying it’s wrong
  • Analysis reveals four distinct Canadian “mindsets” towards morality: the Traditional Absolutists, the Religious Moralists, the Non-Religious Moralists, and the Amoralists


PART 1: What is moral and what is not?

This survey asked Canadians their views on the moral acceptability of a variety of specific situations and behaviors, including well-known moral quandaries as well as less obviously moral issues.

Morally Acceptable

Just two of the situations canvassed in this survey are seen as either “morally acceptable anytime” or “usually acceptable” by a majority of Canadians:

Angus Reid poll of Morality in Canada

It should be noted that the majority of those who see doctor-assisted suicide as acceptable say it is “usually” so (as opposed to always) – meaning there may be circumstances in which they would consider it to be wrong.

This finding is consistent with previous ARI research on this topic, which found Canadians supportive of legalizing physician-assisted suicide generally, but opposed to allowing it in several possible scenarios in which people might want to end their lives.

Morally Wrong

The list of things a majority of Canadians see as either always or usually morally wrong is considerably longer, as illustrated in the following graph (for greater detail, see comprehensive tables here):

Angus Reid poll of Morality in Canada

More wrong than acceptable

Other situations are more likely to be deemed morally wrong than morally acceptable, but by narrower margins:

Angus Reid poll of Morality in Canada

Buying a gas-guzzling SUV” is the item on which Canadians are most evenly divided across the three overall options (acceptable, wrong, and not a moral issue).

As might be expected, residents of Canada’s three largest metro areas (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver) – where owning a large vehicle is less feasible and less necessary – are more likely to see buying a gas-guzzling SUV as morally wrong (45% do so).

Similarly, Canadians who live in rural areas – where owning a large vehicle is more practical and arguably more necessary – are most likely to say this is not a moral issue (38%, see detailed tables at the end of this release).

One possible reason why there are so many more situations seen by a majority of respondents as morally wrong? Many who don’t morally oppose a situation or behavior don’t endorse it either. Instead, they simply don’t see the issue through the lens of morality. Eating meat is an example of this phenomenon. As seen in the following graph, just five per cent of Canadians see it as morally wrong, but fewer than half (49%) say it’s morally acceptable. Almost the same number are inclined to say eating meat is not a moral issue:

Angus Reid poll of Morality in Canada

Morally Divisive Issues

Other issues are more divisive on the moral/immoral spectrum. Gambling and abortion, for instance, are deemed acceptable by more people than who deem them wrong:

Angus Reid poll of Morality in Canada

Of these two issues, abortion is the more polarizing,

That said, relatively few people align themselves with either extreme on this issue. Just one-in-six (16%) say abortion is “morally acceptable anytime,” and even fewer (14%) say it’s “morally wrong under any circumstances.”

Most Canadians are somewhere in the middle, with three-in-ten (30%) saying abortion is “usually acceptable,” – indicating that there are circumstances when it isn’t – while another one-quarter (26%) say it is “usually wrong, except in some circumstances.”

Opinion on the morality of abortion also varies significantly across region and age demographics (see comprehensive tables).

The Gender Gap

There is a massive gulf between the opinions of men and women on questions relating to the morality of sex and sexual relations. This gulf is especially visible in men’s and women’s responses to the questions about watching pornography and high-schoolers having sex:

Angus Reid poll of Morality in Canada

Age drives this gender divide: among women aged 55 and older, 75 per cent say watching pornography is wrong. Fully half of this group (53%) go further, saying it’s morally wrong “under any circumstances.”

Younger women aged 18–34, by contrast, are divided on the issue. More of them say watching pornography is always or usually acceptable (41%) than say it’s always or usually wrong (34%). Fully one-in-four (25%) say it’s not a moral issue at all.

Older men are considerably less troubled by the morality of watching pornography than older women, though they are more likely to see it as wrong than men under age 55 (see comprehensive tables).

On the question of high-schoolers having sex, older women are again the group most likely to see the situation as morally wrong (62% do so), but in this case younger women are more inclined to agree. Some 42 per cent of women aged 18 – 34 say high-schoolers having sex is morally wrong, while 39 per cent say it’s morally acceptable.

Compare this to the opinions of young men, nearly three-in-five (59%) of whom say high-schoolers having sex is morally acceptable, and just one-in-four (25%) of whom say it’s wrong.

A similar pattern – in which young men are especially likely to see each situation as acceptable and older women are especially likely to see it as wrong – can be seen in the results of the two questions on prostitution: buying sex and selling sex, which are summarized in the following graph (see comprehensive tables).

Angus Reid poll of Morality in Canada


PART 2: Four Segments of Canadian Morality

In order to fully mine this rich data, the Angus Reid Institute conducted a special segmentation (or cluster) analysis, grouping respondents based on shared attitudinal characteristics. This can powerfully illustrate the unique “mindsets” surrounding the issue at hand – in this case, morality in Canada.

Based on their answers to the questions about each scenario’s moral acceptability, respondents are sorted into one of the following four categories:

  • Traditional absolutists (21% of the total population)
  • Religious moralists (25%)
  • Non-religious moralists (37%)
  • Amoralists (17%)

The demographics and key attitudes of each group are summarized in the following infographic:

Angus Reid Institute Morality study

Click to Enlarge

Traditional Absolutists are defined by their strong belief in God and their hardline approach to questions of sexual morality. This group’s responses most closely resemble those of Evangelical Christians. Indeed, fully half (50%) of the Evangelicals surveyed find themselves in this segment.

Religious Moralists share many of the same values held by the Traditional Absolutists. What sets them apart is their shared conviction that morality extends beyond so-called “ten commandments” issues. Unlike the Traditional Absolutists, many Religious Moralists see buying a fur coat (64%) or a gas-guzzling SUV (62%) as morally wrong.

Non-Religious Moralists take a more permissive approach to morality. While members of this group tend to agree with the Religious Moralists on societal and environmental issues, they diverge significantly on questions of sexual morality.

Amoralists are the group most likely to say each item on this list is “not a moral issue.” Where they do have an opinion on the morality of a given issue, they’re generally more likely to say things are acceptable rather than wrong.


PART 3: Morality in Canada today

What does morality look like in Canada?

Just one-in-six (16%) Canadians are of the opinion that when it comes to morality, “things are either right or wrong.” The rest reject moral absolutes, and are about evenly divided between believing that “things are usually right or wrong” (41%) or that “it depends on the circumstance” (43%).

As might be expected, opinion on this question varies by segment:

Angus Reid poll of Morality in Canada

There are also significant regional differences on this question, with Quebec residents least likely to say there are moral absolutes (10% say this, compared to at least 16% in every other region). By contrast, Albertans are especially unlikely to say there are moral grey areas (26% do, compared to at least 38% in other regions, see comprehensive tables).

Sources of the Canadian Moral Code:

Canadians are especially likely to identify reason/rationality and parents, close family members or role models as the most important sources of their morality:

Angus Reid poll of Morality in Canada

Men are more likely than women to say their moral code comes from reason (43% versus 31%), while women are more likely to point to family (35% say so, versus 25% of men).

Religion/God is the most important contributor to the moral compass of roughly one-in-seven Canadians (13%), but it’s especially influential in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (25% in each province).

Here again, the segments diverge significantly, with Traditional Absolutists most likely to choose “Religion/God” (30%) and Amoralists most likely to choose reason/rationality (49%).

Moral values: stronger or weaker today?

Ultimately, Canadians are nearly five times as likely to say society’s moral values are getting weaker (47%) than they are to say such values are getting stronger (10%). The rest (44%) say morality in the country is staying about the same, but it is younger Canadians who have the sunniest outlook about this, as evidenced in the following graph:

Angus Reid poll of Morality in Canada

For Traditional Absolutists, there is no question which direction the country’s moral values are headed. More than seven-in-ten (72%) in this group say Canada’s morality is getting weaker, while just 4 per cent say stronger.

A majority of religious moralists (57%) also see Canada’s moral values eroding, while the non-religious segments are most likely to say “overall morals aren’t really changing”.

Click here for the full report including tables and methodology

Click here for comprehensive data tables

Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey


Shachi Kurl, Senior Vice President: 604.908.1693


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