April 15, 2014

What’s morally acceptable? It depends on where in the world you live

The Pew Research Center asked people in 40 countries about what is morally unacceptable, morally acceptable or not a moral issue. The issues included: married people having an affair, gambling, homosexuality, having an abortion, sex between unmarried adults, drinking alcohol, getting a divorce and using contraceptives. Our new Global Morality Interactive highlights the findings and allows users to sort the data in a variety of ways.

Visit the interactive →

Here are 5 key takeaways from the survey:

Global survey on whether people in 40 countries see certain behaviors as morally acceptable, unacceptable, or not a moral issue

1Extramarital affairs widely seen as morally unacceptable.

A median of 78% across 40 nations said married people having an affair was morally unacceptable, with only 7% saying it was morally acceptable, and one-in-ten saying it was not a moral issue. However, there was one notable exception: only 47% in France said having an extramarital affair was a morally suspect action. Instead, four-in-ten thought it was not a moral issue, while 12% said it was actually morally acceptable. France was the only country where less than half of respondents described infidelity as unacceptable.

Global views on moral issues

2People see using contraceptives as a morally acceptable practice.

Among the eight issues included in the survey, people seemed most comfortable with the practice of using contraceptives. Only a median of 14% across the 40 countries said that using contraceptives (we did not specify exactly what kind of contraceptive) was morally wrong, while 54% said they personally believed it was acceptable. A further 21% said it was not a moral issue. Only in Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana did half or more say contraceptives were immoral.

3People in countries surveyed are more split on premarital sex and alcohol usage.

While a median of 46% across the 40 nations saw sex between unmarried adults as morally unacceptable, an almost equal number said it was morally acceptable (24%) or not a moral issue (16%). The same was true for alcohol usage, where a median of 42% said it was an unacceptable practice, but 22% said it was acceptable to drink and 24% said it was not a moral issue. There was a wide range of opinion on this practice, as in all the other issues tested. Pakistan is consistent in its views of premarital sex and alcohol usage – 94% say both are morally unacceptable. Meanwhile, only 21% of Japanese say sex between unmarried adults is morally unacceptable and almost two-thirds (66%) say drinking is a morally acceptable practice.

Global survey on whether people in 40 countries see certain behaviors as morally acceptable, unacceptable, or not a moral issue

4Americans see extramarital affairs as unacceptable, but are more accepting on other issues.

An overwhelming majority of Americans said extramarital affairs were morally unacceptable. But fewer Americans said that abortion was unacceptable (49%), with 17% saying abortion was morally acceptable and 23% saying it was not a moral issue. Meanwhile, less than four-in-ten Americans are strongly opposed to homosexuality (37% unacceptable), premarital sex (30%), gambling (24%), divorce (22%) and alcohol usage (16%). For these issues, a majority of Americans said that they were either morally acceptable or not a moral issue. And when it came to the issue of contraceptive use, only 7% said this was unacceptable.


5U.S. Republicans are more likely to view many of these issues as unacceptable.

There are partisan divides in the U.S. on 5 of the 8 questions between Republicans and Democrats. This tracks with each party’s views on social issues, with Republicans generally considered more socially conservative and Democrats as more socially liberal. For instance, while 68% of Republicans believed that abortion is morally unacceptable, only 39% of Democrats said the same. Similar gaps appeared on the issues of homosexuality, premarital sex, and divorce. There was a smaller partisan gap on extramarital affairs, with little partisan differences on gambling, contraceptives, and alcohol — all of which are generally seen as morally acceptable or not a moral issue by Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

Category: 5 Facts

  1. Photo of Jacob Poushter

    is a senior researcher focusing on global attitudes at Pew Research Center.


  1. nuoipter termer2 years ago

    I thought I saw on a google page with a link to this site that the vast majority of the world sees homosexuality as a sin. I don’t believe that. I think the majority of the world is okay with homosexuality. It’s mostly the extreme religious people that see it as a sin I would think. What the hell does vast majority mean too? If there’s no point where non vast majority becomes vast majority then vast majority is nonsense.

  2. MOKETE PATRICK Mabetoa2 years ago

    I consider everything which is against god’s will as morally unacceptable.

    1. Filip2 years ago

      Do you know God yourself? Did he tell you what is his will infront of you ? No ? So then who says what God’s will is ? A book that was deemed canonical by people and not God himself ?

      1. lynn2 years ago

        Don’t you mean “God Herself”??

      2. Anonymous1 year ago

        just because you can not hear the voice of God does not mean others can not ! (some might even call the voice a conscience )

  3. Nasiirah Antony2 years ago

    Everything that are against religion should be punished as they are against moral codes. One should think of their afterlife and what they will say for the time of judgment.

  4. Nancy Long Sieber2 years ago

    It’s interesting that Republicans find many more things to be immoral, yet the states that vote Republican have higher rates of divorce, out of wedlock births and pornography consumption.

    1. Macy Mejia2 years ago

      I haven’t researched that but is it possible that those higher rates account for the population of people who are not republican? I guess the more interesting thing would be to find out the rates among the republicans to see if their morals really hold up.

  5. Gary3 years ago

    The largest standing army always wins. It’s not the news. It’s worked for the Catholic church time and time and again. Population is a military might: a weapon. The pope is not likely to admit babies are regiment replacements. Screw birth control is and will continue as the order-of -the-day. For most countries a large family is their only social security! Everyone sort of suspected this.

  6. truth3 years ago

    If one want to be and live without limits let them be…the consequences of their behavior will reach with them sooner or later…but then do not ask why…..it will be to late….you will need to live with your choice, your decision….you made it. but please don’t try to shove down the rest of the people you choices…..keep them for yourself

  7. Angus3 years ago

    This article’s title implies a normative claim that moral relativism is true. The moral universalist would say that what is morally acceptable is the same wherever in the world you live. It’s just that people in different countries are to a greater or lesser extent mistaken in their positions on moral issues.

  8. Mateusz3 years ago

    I wrote from Poland. I think abortion, gambling, too much alcohol use, and exmarital are very wrong things. Homosexuality is not for moral judge it is kind of human nature. Divorce and contraceptives it depend.

  9. Metta Lash3 years ago

    Why would you ask questions about homosexuality as a morality issue? Would you ask people if they opposed heterosexuality on moral grounds? If you want to poll attitudes towards homosexuality that is one thing but don’t couch it in terms of morality.

    1. Mark Timothy Ramsey3 years ago

      [muh-ral-i-tee, maw-] Show IPA
      noun, plural mo·ral·i·ties for 4–6.
      1. conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct.
      2. moral quality or character.
      3. virtue in sexual matters; chastity.
      4. a doctrine or system of morals.
      5. moral instruction; a moral lesson, precept, discourse, or utterance.

      I agree Metta. Morality is loving your neighbor, treating others the way you would want to be treated, doing what you say and saying what you mean, fulfilling commitments, speaking up when you think something isn’t right. Morality only applies to situations where someone has a choice. It is immoral to treat others with disrespect, to marginalize and criminalize them based on characteristics that cannot be changed, like sexual orientation, skin color, and gender.

    2. Eli Jackson3 years ago

      Well, apparently by their very nature, the vast majority of the world does believe homosexual acts to be sin.
      As did we all not so long ago…
      Be ye not deceived, the wages of sin is still death.

  10. Grasshopper3 years ago

    Interestingly, 6 of 9 categories are to do with relationships. This is a very narrow base for moral issues. The survey does not deal with many issues, at all. Why so narrow a focus?

    The survey also did not seem to want to capture a good cross section of the world. A lot of Europe. A bit of Asia, a bit of Africa, a hint of Latin America, but no Caribbean islands (they’re quite different from surrounding mainland, and have v strong moral views.)

    Tell us this is just the beginning.

    1. Mark Timothy Ramsey3 years ago

      Conservative and strong do not mean the same thing.

  11. francois williams3 years ago

    South Africa was the first country in the world to constitutionalize gay marriage in its Constitution…

  12. Ken S3 years ago

    And once again, one can easily note certain correlations– the most “morally” repressive, most finger-wagging, most conservative countries line up neatly with the ones most rife with people blowing each other up, chopping each other to bits, brutalizing women, and languishing in low quality of life relative to more liberal, progressive states. Or even zoomed in, the political faction in the U.S.– Republicans– who most strongly oppose contraception and abortion and sexual “immorality” also tend to dominate in the states with the highest rates of child pregnancy. For people who claim to have all the answers about the only correct way to live, these pious prigs sure do seem to suck at practising what they preach. Why, it’s almost as though all their certainty and their absolutes don’t actually *work* in the real world.

    So the chicken/egg question is, are moral conservatives constitutionally more inclined to hypocrisy? Or are hypocritical people just disproportionately attracted to conservativism somehow?

    I will say I’m surprised that contraception sees the disapproval that it does in China, with its legacy of the one child policy. I mean I can see people chafing under it, but I thought that might be attenuated by communist indoctrination conditioning people to see it as a non-issue fact of life.

    1. Matthew3 years ago

      Western degeneracy and excessive liberalism, the legacy of the late 60s and early 70s, have impacted both parties, the religious, and beyond, just as the conservatism of the 30s, 40s, and 50s permeated both parties and throughout society.

      When it comes to specific correlations, it’s not nearly as neat as you pretend it to be. For example, among women, those who identify as feminists are the least happy. So much for quality of life.

      Further, when you look at the success of the Western world, it was founded on centuries, millennia even, of consistent conservatism. It’s something modern liberals, in their relative complacency and luxury, have increasingly taken for granted. Nevertheless, the cracks are already beginning to show. See Detroit. In the last few decades of excessive liberalism and degeneracy society has begun to disintegrate and people are increasingly suffering. See the record levels of broken families, record levels of obesity and diabetes (“if it feels good, do it”?), record levels of mental illness and drug addiction, record levels of incarceration, record levels of gambling, record levels of debt, etc. etc. etc.

      Your model is failing.

      PS. There’s plenty of hypocrisy on the left as well

    2. Thomas R3 years ago

      South Korea looks to take the more morally conservative position than us on gambling, homosexuality, abortion, premarital sex, alcohol, divorce, and even contraception. Adultery is an exception, but even there they aren’t especially accepting. South Korea has a higher murder rate than Europe, but it doesn’t look especially high.

  13. BTN3 years ago

    I came here from an article on HuffingtonPost headlined about “The World’s Most Accepting Nation For Gays”, then found out that it is Spain that was being referred to.

    Not surprisingly, Spain is known as one of the few countries in the world to legalize same-sex marriages. In fact, it was the third country to do so, after Holland and Belgium, both of which are coincidentally not included in this poll. It’d be interesting to hear what the Dutchs and Belgians have to say about homosexuality, can we expect even more liberal minds than the Spanish? The findings may be reflective of the legality of related matters in the surveyed countries. (What is legal depends on where you live, too!) Although, of course, just because something is legal doesn’t necessarily mean that it is morally right, which is what makes a research like this interesting.

    Another reader has already remarked, the face-to-face approach may not be ideal for this kind of polling. I agree. My understanding from reading your methodology is that face-to-face is the method adopted for most of the countries, followed by telephone, is that correct? When a lot of sensitive issues are involved, accuracy improves if anonymity for respondents is guaranteed. Moreover, the level of controversy means it can be conflicting for some respondents to arrive at a final answer, and so time is needed to ensure respondents can thoroughly think it through. How much time a respondent is allowed in the face-to-face interview or in the phone call? Hopefully it was sufficient for respondents to give some thoughts and figure out their true personal opinions deep down, as opposed to quickly picking a standard answer guided by religious principles.

    I like reading the polls here. The other research recently published about religious diversity is also interesting. Since this poll seems somewhat influenced by religions especially in the case of Muslim oriented countries, I am curious about the results for the three most religiously diverse countries in the world, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam – the third of which I come from : )

    1. Everette Thombs3 years ago

      This is a very good article/reply which expresses much thought and understanding and of how studies make sense, I think you a have made very good suggestions as to how we do studies.
      A random controlled double blind study would provide more proof of whether the individuals responses were valid.
      Well, in almost any country, the internet is supervised and if you live in Ghana or Russia,
      or indeed the USA, the internet is easy to have it’s security breached.
      So, I think a major question would be, who who responds to such a question?
      But at least studied such as the Huffing Post reported and the responses given by others, give us fodder for seeking funds to do more appropriate studied, as well as do the responses to your comments.

    2. toto3 years ago

      not to mention that, the wordings with suffix and prefix can be confusin especially to countries not fluent in English language..moralLY UNacceptable?? what???

  14. Alex3 years ago

    What is “morality”? Huge underlying problem with this poll. There is a massive difference between religious morality and a personal sense of what is right and wrong.

    Some people polled no doubt thought that they were being asked what their religion formally taught about these things, not what they actually personally thought about it.

    For others, religion had no role to play at all in their answers. “Morality” referred to their own personal sense of right and wrong.

    The option “not a moral question” was confusing to everyone, I think. At least in the West.

    And was the poll conducted online or face to face? A Nigerian or Pakistani may be reluctant to tell a person face to face what he or she really thinks about these things.

    1. Rick Ladd3 years ago

      Excellent points, Alex. I think there’s an even further dimension missing, which would bring a deeper understanding to how different people are thinking. For instance, while I support a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, I would like to see a world where abortion is unnecessary or, at least, rare. So, I might say I think abortion is immoral in a general sense, but has to be understood in the context of the lives it impacts, especially those of people already born.

      We might also ask of those things we consider immoral, which of them are forgivable, understandable in some contexts, or even acceptable in some contexts. Actually, looking at the responses for each country, it seems clear to me context plays a dominant role in what is considered immoral, thereby doing violence to the notion there’s is such a thing as absolute right and wrong.

    2. Al Maki3 years ago

      I thought the poll demonstrated quite clearly that what is considered to fit under the heading of morality varies greatly from place to place and so one definition of “moral” would not fit all. I also don’t think that “not a moral question” confused everyone in the west. It seemed quite clear to me and in fact only one of these questions seems to me to be a moral question.

    3. Eli Jackson3 years ago

      Morality comes from God my friend, and He’s got the full 100% supply.
      He sets the rules, right is right, wrong is wrong, and the wages of sin is still death, while the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

      What’s wrong once is still wrong, morality does not come from man, and whether he rationalizes his sin as righteousness or not it remains just exactly what it always was.

      It’s called absolute truth, absolute morality.

      On the other hand we have fun-fun times, make up your own rules, do whatever you want, hey, you only live once right? Why not screw somebody else over then, you only live once right? Why not rape that woman over yon right? Why not con that grandma out of her church money on sunday morning, right? You only live once. As long as we can get away with it then let’s get to it. There is no God, there is no Judgment and there certainly can be no fiery pit of hell, so why not do whatever you want, right?

      Let’s just continue with our goldilocks morality and go on sinning, oops, I mean living, as we please forevermore.

      And if anybody tells us otherwise then they’re just racist, homophobic, sexist, fundamentalist bigots, and I don’t have to listen to them, or live under laws they wish to live under, God forbid, oops, I mean science forbid.

      God bless you now, I’ll be praying for you.

      1. Antony3 years ago


        1) Is it morally acceptable to take a person who is physically abnormal and treat them differently than others, both in terms of social class and religious standing?

        2) Is it morally correct to command someone to do something you say is good, then call the result evil?

        3) Is genocide morally acceptable?

        4) Is swindling elderly people out of their savings judged to be less or more moral than couples copulating prior to marriage?


        1, 2 3 and 4 are all biblical. (1) if you were a a dwarf or a eunuch (damage to or missing testicles), you were restricted from certain practice, or if a Eunuch, you could never enter the assembly of the Lord. (2) God commanded Adam/Eve to fill the earth. Leviticus then requires a sin offering for the birth of a child (only of the woman) and notably twice as much cleansing was required for the birth of a female. (3) Genocide was authorized by God (“devoted to destruction”) and (4) is addressed and condemned as sins with equal punishment (Apostle Paul).

        What do we do when our conscience differs from what we see in sacred texts? Do I kill in the name of God even tho this is anathema to me? Is that morally acceptable for me to do that?

        I’d venture to say that things are not nearly as neat and tidy as people want to make out, even among members of the same religion, same church, mosque, synagogue, and even members of the same family; or even individuals depending on the unique circumstances and their mood on a particular day.

        Morality is entirely problematic because each person’s morality is different. There are certain crimes that are *almost* always unacceptable to humans, such as murder. This, again is dependent on the circumstances.

  15. Nathan Black3 years ago

    Providing for the poor, and health care for the poor are moral issues but they are not Government issues. Our defense budget is a Constitutional issue. CEO salaries and the minimum wage are economic issues. Bad schools is a State/Local government issue, not a Federal Government issue. Remember, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Glad to clear that up for ya.

    1. Everette Thombs3 years ago

      Good points.

      Thank you.

    2. Dennis Embry3 years ago

      Forgive me for puzzling abut the distinction here. None of the issues polled: abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, divorce, extramarital sex, gambling, contraceptives, or alcohol are topics in the Constitution per se. Oddly, I notice that the political party I once belonged to and worked for years ago growing up in Kansas never talked about those things—and I even worked in the Republican Cloakroom in the US House where things were much less edited. A a state level, the Republican and Democratic parties both worked to build excellent schools across the state, fantastic roads that can last a 100 years, excellent social, physical, and safety infra-structure for citizens even if they were poor or mentally impaired. Kansas was the first state to heavily invest in such community mental health more than 50 years ago.

      Not today, though in Kansas or the Republican Party I knew. Nope, today most all of the talk and legislative action in Kansas where I was born and schooled and in Arizona (where I live) is constantly about “moral” issues—of which most of the Republicans have their own personal histories with. The only “Constitutional Issue” seems to be a desire of making sure that every man, woman, and child carries a gun—preferably capable of firing many rounds automatically, and people who are “different” cannot vote.

      Something fundamental is missing in the party that I belonged to…the Spirit of the Preamble of the Constitution: …”in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

      That is the part you don’t see much any more in the GOP, sadly.

  16. Z543 years ago

    Amerikan’s don’t seem to have a problem with their politicians and religious leaders preying on their children!

  17. Robin3 years ago

    Pew may want to consider broadening its moral considerations to include the following: Is it a moral issue to provide for the poor? Is health care a moral issue? Is a solid education (k-12) a moral issue? Is it a moral issue to spend so much on our defense budget and so much on education? Are CEO salaries a moral issue? Is the minimum wage a moral issue? Are “bad” schools a moral issue? The same One who said “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” also said “do unto others as thou would have others do unto you.”

    1. Hannah3 years ago

      It is a moral issue to care for the less fortunate. It is NOT moral to force people to do so.

    2. Kevin3 years ago

      You’re really going out of your way to make government your god. You’re blurring the line between the concept of “morals” and “rights.” Our morals don’t come from government. There is so much waste in the government we can’t provide for the poor or even respond to natural disasters. Is it a moral issue to tack on a trillion dollars a year in debt? Less government, and more individual responsibility brings about these improvements. Morals are about changing people, not having more government regulation.

      1. Matt3 years ago

        How is discussing education and healthcare making government your God? I support public education, but I certainly don’t consider government my God.

    3. Jake3 years ago

      I agree 1000%!!!

    4. Everette Thombs3 years ago

      As so written by King James interpreter?

      An interpreter can slightly bend works so that they have vast variations of meaning meanings.

      Many people believe That King James interpreters just sot it right. There are those who say the do no understand the “Unabridged Bible” while others believe the newer “explainer” or interpretations deed the modern day Bibles blasphemy.
      It appears that most of the respondents are Christian.

      1. Always interested3 years ago

        There is a great book out there called “The Good Book”,it explains more on this topic and other as well. You will find out that King James was gay and didn’t live his life by the bible. You can also google King James is gay and find great sources backing up the very facts that he was gay. I am a history writer and I love theology.
        Always interested.