April 9, 2020

Ethics in Nursing: Older White Liberal College Graduates Believe in the Honesty and Ethics of Nurses

I’m still thinking about the results of the 2019 Gallup poll of American public opinion regarding the honesty and ethics of various professional groups. To reiterate, for the eighteenth consecutive year, nurses rated higher in these attributes than all other professions included in the survey. Who believes this? What are the most common characteristics of Americans who rate nurses so highly?

My earlier comments contained a discussion of some of the data, revised to include the 2019 data. Specifically, I compared Americans’ perceptions of the honesty and ethics of nurses and clergy. Comparing the data from 2002-2010 and 2011-2019, I concluded that, whereas the percentage of combined Very High and High ratings of nurses held approximately steady, the combined Very High and High ratings of clergy fell approximately 9%.

Question: Which Americans are most likely to rate nurses as honest and ethical in 2019?

Answer: Older, white, ideologically liberal college graduates with political party identification.

Considering the demographics of the Gallup survey respondents, there are several interesting trends in the ratings of nurses. Gender does not appear to have been an issue. Approximately 85% of male and female respondents alike gave nurses Very High and High ratings. However, differences are revealed when the data are viewed in the light of age, race, level of education, political ideology, and political party identification.

With respect to age, it appears older survey respondents were more likely than younger respondents to rate nurses in the Very High or High categories. Whereas approximately 83% of Americans in the 18-34 and 35-53 age ranges rated nurses in the Very High or High categories, 88% of Americans aged 55 or older rated nurses in these categories. On the other hand, only 11% of Americans 55 or older rated nurses Average, Low, or Very Low. Unlike the younger two groups, none of these eldest Americans gave nurses a rating of Low or Very Low.

Regarding race, white respondents gave nurses Very High or High ratings approximately 91% of the time, whereas non-whites did so only 73% of the time. Further, none of the white respondents rated nurses below Average.

Level of education appears correlated with favorable opinion of the honesty and ethics of nurses. Approximately 85% of respondents with some college experience rated nurses Very High or High, and this percentage was even higher among college graduates (94%). In contrast, only 78% of respondents with no more than a high school education rated nurses Very High or High.

Interestingly, political party identification in general, whether Republican or Democrat, correlated with high levels of Very High or High ratings (approximately 89% or 88%, respectively). Only 80% of independents rated nurses at these levels, and this group of respondents rated nurses Average, Low, or Very Low more often than either party-identified group. This was true of each rating level as well as in the aggregate.

The final category I’d like to examine this week pertains to political ideology. Conservatives, moderates, and liberals rated nurses Very High or High 81%, 86%, and 88% of the time, respectively. Exactly the opposite trend was evident for aggregated Average, Low, or Very Low ratings. Thus, it appears the the more ideologically liberal the respondent, the more likely to rate nurses Very High or High in terms of honesty and ethics.

So, what do these numbers suggest about the “typical” American who holds nurses in high esteem with respect to honesty and ethical standards? Not pressing these numbers to say something they really don’t, I think we can at least suspect that overall those who are most likely to give nurses Very High or High ratings are older white liberal college graduates who identify with a major political party.

If this is true, then there are many more questions to be asked. For example, what relationships between nursing and race, age, education level, and politics can account for American public opinion in this area? This is very intriguing to me, and I hope to explore these relationships in future posts.

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