Feature Img

moralityMany of my Bangladeshi friends and relatives frenetically deny that their compatriots have sex before marriage. Amusingly, about as many unmarried friends in Bangladesh tell me that they are sexually active. I imagine that, partly due to the lack of comprehensive sex education in Bangladeshi schools, a non-negligible number of unmarried women conceive during their adolescent years. If, a few months ago, a friend in that situation had called me, and asked me whom she should talk to about her pregnancy, I would have advised her to talk to people of her age first. I would have argued that adolescents and young adults are more accepting of premarital sex, abortion and having a baby outside of marriage, and that she will more likely find support in her siblings or same-aged friends than in her parents. I would have been wrong.

A few weeks ago, I invited you to participate in what was likely the first moral beliefs survey in Bangladesh (The examined life: Surveying moral beliefs in Bangladesh). More than 1,500 readers responded to my call and rated the morality of 37 behaviours and social policies.

Birth control, love marriage, and the consumption of meat enjoy approval ratings over 80 percent, making them virtually non-issues. Respondents also broadly approve of arranged marriage (75 percent) and divorce (71 percent).

child-maidChild marriage, bribery of government officials, incest, and littering are taboo, with none of them considered acceptable by more than five percent of respondents. Only one in ten respondents approves of having extramarital affairs, employing child domestic workers, committing suicide, or using corporal punishment in school. However, UNICEF reports that there are hundreds of thousands of child domestic workers in Bangladesh, suggesting that the qualms about having children below the age of 12 working in one’s household are overcome all too easily. Unfortunately, the moral stigma attached to bribing and littering seems similarly ineffective.

Dowry has been prohibited in Bangladesh for more than 30 years and is the least acceptable practice respondents were quizzed on. 97 percent say dowry is morally wrong, a number that may well reflect the overwhelming success of government and NGO campaigns to change public opinion regarding this issue. However, this laudable achievement should neither be seen as an end in itself, nor should it distract from the fact that dowry-related violence continues to be a serious and urgent problem. Amnesty International reports that each year several thousand complaints are made to the police concerning dowry-related violence, and hundreds of girls and women are murdered when their families fail to fulfil dowry demands.

The moral significance of animal welfare proved to be the most controversial issue. Four in ten disagree with the prevailing view that wearing fur is immoral. The testing of cosmetics on animals is considered unacceptable by a 45-to-35 percent majority. Animal issues also account for the sharpest differences between the sexes. Whereas only a minority of women in this survey finds medical testing on animals moral (47 percent), 68 percent of men attach more value to the potential benefits for humans than to the suffering of laboratory animals. Women are also less likely to approve of fur-wearing (25 percent; men: 42 percent), pornography (12 percent; men: 27 percent), arranged marriage (67 percent; men: 77 percent), and extramarital affairs (four percent; men: eleven percent). While about as many men as women consider it acceptable for parents to use corporal punishment, they disagree about the use of corporal punishment in school. Only one out of 25 women in this survey says it is okay for teachers to slap or spank their students. Among male respondents the rate is three times higher. Women are more supportive of women wearing revealing clothes in public than men, at least by a slight margin (30 percent vs. 28 percent).

Respondents significantly disagreed about the moral acceptability of apostasy, the death penalty, dating, and premarital sex. A solid majority agrees that each of these, except premarital sex, is acceptable, yet about a third disagrees. 56 percent believe that sex should occur only within marriage, 36 percent are open to the idea of sex between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman.

condomsSurprisingly, the survey showed few differences across age groups. One might imagine attitudes about sex and drugs to be more relaxed among the young, yet the opposite is the case. Maybe feeling more compelled to respond in accordance with the perceived status quo, drinking alcohol is considered acceptable by only 23 percent of those respondents aged 25 and younger, smoking by 29 percent, consuming cannabis by 10 percent, dating by 54 percent, consuming pornography by 21 percent, and homosexuality by 23 percent. The percentages in other age groups are consistently higher. The young also differ significantly in their views of the moral acceptability of abortion. 37 percent of those aged 36 and older say abortion is morally acceptable, compared to just twenty percent of those aged 25 and younger.

The poll shows a wide religious gap, in particular between Muslims who tend to be socially conservative and the non-religious who generally subscribe to more liberal views. Whereas a large majority of those respondents who do not adhere to any religion approve of premarital sex, unwed pregnancies, revealing clothing, and homosexuality, less than one in three Muslims considers these morally okay. Hindus stand in between. Unsurprisingly, Muslims most strongly oppose the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, with only 20 percent approving of alcohol (Hindus: 46 percent; non-religious people: 72 percent) and 29 percent being okay with smoking (Hindus: 32 percent; non-religious people: 56 percent). Considerably more Muslims approve of corporal punishment at school (12 percent) and at home (29 percent) than Hindus (4/15 percent) and non-religious people (3/12 percent). Even though religious exclusivism is generally thought to be more prevalent in Islam and other Abrahamic religions than in Dharmic religions, Hindus are less tolerant with regard to apostasy than Muslims. Forty percent of Hindus and 45 percent of Muslims in this survey believe that it is morally permissible for a person to abandon or renounce his or her religion (non-religious people: 93 percent).

Expatriates more widely share Western attitudes in matters of sexuality and romance as well as with regard to the consumption of alcohol and tobacco than those living in Bangladesh. For example, about seven in ten Bangladeshi respondents living outside their native country say dating is morally acceptable – in contrast to only 55 percent at home. 38 percent of expatriates as compared to 27 percent of non-expatriates approve of alcohol. With just two percent approving of child marriage and four percent approving of child labour, expatriates are seemingly more conscious of the rights of children than their fellow countrymen in their native land (6/6 percent).

whiskeyAmericans and Bangladeshis are most divided over gambling. The 2012 Gallup poll on American values and beliefs found that 64 percent of Americans consider gambling morally acceptable, compared to only 12 percent of Bangladeshis in this survey who have no qualms with gambling. The two peoples also have opposing reactions to homosexuality and premarital sex. While most Americans approve of gay and lesbian relations as well as sex between a man and a woman who are not married to each other (54/59 percent), only a minority of Bangladeshis in this survey is okay with these behaviours (25/36 percent). Bangladeshis in this survey, however, are more acceptable of cloning than Americans. With slightly less than 60 percent of both country’s respondents approving, Americans and Bangladeshis agree that states may put people to death for certain crimes.

For the full survey results, please click on the following link:

www.bdnews24.com /Bangladesh-Moral-Beliefs-Survey-June-2012.pdf

The online survey, conducted from June 12 to 17, 2012, was only accessible to the estimated five percent of the Bangladeshi population who use the Internet. Further, women were underrepresented, the highly educated vastly overrepresented, and no demographic weights were applied. The results hence are likely not representative of the Bangladeshi citizenry as a whole. If you are a Bangladeshi researcher and if you think your institution might be interested in cooperating with me to build upon this survey and conduct an in-depth investigation into Bangladeshi morality, I would be happy to hear from you.

Rainer Ebert is a philosophy student at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

44 Responses to “Young Bangladeshis more conservative than their elders, survey finds”

  1. noname

    I’m a little late in seeing this but I did participate in the original survey, almost a year ago. Thought it was a great initiative then and now that I see the results it seems even more worthwhile! 🙂

    I would like to know if you have expanded on your research. I think you could definitely use telephone interviews to reach a more representative sample as mobile phone penetration is quite high in the country. You could also take the help of some students to carry out the surveys as the questions will need to be asked in Bengali for the majority of the population!

    • Rainer Ebert

      Thank you for your kind words. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to expand this research yet. One problem is that I am in Bangladesh only a few weeks every year. Maybe if I had research partners in Bangladesh, a more comprehensive study would be possible.

  2. SR

    Thank you for the report!

    However, from the very limited knowledge that I have – it’s against the principles of a researcher to give his opinions/assumptions in a research paper which is not backed by data.

    Therefore comments like “Maybe feeling more compelled to respond in accordance with the perceived status quo” – are misleading.

    Hopefully there will be more analysis on the given data and more dive into the correlation in future.

    • Rainer Ebert

      This is not a research article, but an opinion piece. Therefore, I feel that a little speculation is allowed as long as I do not present it as a fact (note the “maybe” in the sentence you quoted).

  3. Adnan R. Amin

    Thank you Rainer for doing this – look how many of us it got talking. I personally participated in the survey and was indeed amused to ‘realize’ how conservative I really was – despite all that wishful thinking. I think there’s good indication here of where the literate, tech-savvy generation is heading in terms of their beliefs and values. In a world of growing strife – extreme polarization of cultures and religions was always going to be on the cards.

    Thanks again and I do hope you expand on this.

    • Rainer Ebert

      Thanks for your comment, Adnan. You used the word “polarization”, and I feel this word gives a very good description of what is happening to the youth in Bangladesh. There seems to be a shift towards the poles, with the poles being (Western?) liberalism and (Muslim?) conservatism. However, further studies need to be done before we can say anything definite.

  4. SR

    If you take the basic principle of research into consideration, researchers can never put in their own opinions in research reports. So if you’re doing a guessing game about why respondents feel in some way about something – then this is not a research; it’s opinion. There were a lot of ways – inferences could be put forward, from sources of secondary research or in depth interviews.

    If you analyze the data you have in hand – a lot more correlation was possible. However, those have not been put forward.

    Again to infer that a difference of 5% (for example) is significant enough to say it’s statistically significant – is also a question.

    However, thank you for taking the initiative. It’s about time we started studying more and more the people of this country before we conclude based on fantasies.

  5. hussain

    So ultimately, this survey tells us very little, especially the middle classes, the precise group which the majority, if not all of the respondents would have derived from.

    • Rainer Ebert

      Many young people from middle class backgrounds have access to the internet, for example through mobile phones and campus computers.

      Since the publication of these survey results, many people in Bangladesh have told me that they are not surprised about the young being more conservative. The results match their personal expriences.

  6. baba

    100% Bangladeshi males who have access watch porn, when they hit puberty.

  7. Sajal Dash

    As you stated in your article, your readers willingly gave feedback and participated in this survey. The problem with this method is that, it’s not a real random selection. Probably, only the enthusiastic ones cared to participate. What I am saying is there might be some inherent bias towards the survey method you adopted. Let me show you one trivial bias, internet access is mostly available to the part of the population who are well ahead in terms of formal education and economic condition.

    I appreciate your effort, it will help us get, at least, a partial view of our moral standings.

    • Rainer Ebert

      I fully agree with you. The participants of this survey were not selected randomly. I tried to address the issue of bias in the last paragraph of my article.

  8. kishor

    I have read all of your articles, good word and sentences, feel well pieces. But I have one question regarding the latest one – why are you so eager to compare Bangladeshis with Western world survey?

    • Rainer Ebert

      I was inspired by the 2012 Gallup poll on American values and beliefs which was published just a few weeks before I conducted my survey. If there had been a major German survey in the news at that time, I’d have compared Bangladeshi beliefs to German beliefs, etc.

      • OG

        I welcome any survey by anyone, a foreign citizen or a native one. No matter how representative this survey is, it gives some idea about the internet-powered Bangladeshis’ thought. As a ‘deshi jamai’, I believe that you feel enthusiastic about the country. That’s fine. Thank you very much!
        I think that the Bangladeshi angry readers (of your previous column
        ‘Bangladesh’s invisible minority’), including me, will have greater respect for your writing now!
        I look forward to your future writings. But I would definitely not like to see a molehill described as a mountain.

      • Rainer Ebert

        I do feel close to Bangladesh, and I’m glad you appreciate my work. I hope I will be able to continue sharing my ideas with readers in Bangladesh in future, however insignificant they may be.

  9. Omar Farooque

    I second Sajjad.

    The article was good to read and know about the views of “respondents” and “Bangladeshis in this survey” (thanks to the writer to emphasize on this adequately) – yet these types of surveys are always non-conclusive especially in the context of our country. You can never make useful conclusion from the findings. If the respondents were from villages (about 85% of Bangladeshis mostly live in villages) – the survey findings can be very different.

    A good article, nevertheless.

    • Rainer Ebert

      I don’t agree that no conclusions can be drawn from this survey. At the minimum, it says something about Bangladeshis who have access to the Internet. However, as I said, the significance is limited, and I hope to expand my research in the future. Thank you for reading my article.

  10. mahedi hasan

    The title of your article made me a bit confused because i do feel that we, the young people are more robust and active in action compared to our elders..the word “sex” is still regarded as a taboo subject in the mass level of Bangladesh so it implies that we are far backwards in terms of adult subjects…you can’t make your title like the way you have done because your study is only based on virtual world and those who participated in the survey are the ultra modern bunch of people…and at the same time this subject varies man to man, generation to generation, custom to custom.

  11. Toyona

    Not that bad for a survey… I’ll be looking forward to in depth research if you come up with one in the future.

  12. tanu

    These digits are totally insignificant. They are just numbers. They don’t show any real view whatsoever. Yet your attempt is encouraging and appreciable to remove stymie on morality research.

    • Rainer Ebert

      I humbly disagree. These numbers reflect what real people said, more than 1,500 of them. I’m glad nevertheless that you appreciate my effort.

  13. Arafat

    Wow! Thanks Rainer for your first moral belief survey in Bangladesh. Also thanks for the attached pdf… It’s really surprising that why young Bangladeshis more conservative than their elders, as this survey is Internet based, I expected the opposite will happen.

    • Rainer Ebert

      I was surprised about the responses from young Bangladeshis as well. An explanation might be that they feel more compelled to respond in accordance with the perceived status quo, and will become more critical when growing older. I’m glad you liked my article! Thanks for your comment.

      • Molly

        I am not surprised by the survey results. When I compare people (younger and older) surrounding me in the ‘80s (obviously, I don’t represent the younger population!) and now, my overall reading about their values and beliefs appear to be more lenient towards more conservative now than they were 25/30 years back.

  14. robin

    I just went through it. In some cases I agree with the survey but I don’t agree with the heading of the piece.

    I don’t know who participated in this survey but from my life experience I have seen most of my friends are very secular and progressive as well. And I know many people who are non-religious and some are in the middle of the road and think very positively. Anyway, thank you Mr. Ebert. Hopefully I am going to meet you in my Commission office. You are welcome at NHRC. Thank you.

    • Rainer Ebert

      Thanks for your comment, Robin. My personal experiences also do not match the results of this survey. I’d describe most young people I know in Bangladesh as liberal or progressive, so I was just as surprised as you are.

  15. Rajib

    Thanks for sharing the result of your survey. It is only the findings of the online survey. What is your opinion?

    • Rainer Ebert

      Thanks for your comment. You are right, the survey was only accessible to the estimated five percent of the Bangladeshi population who use the Internet.

  16. Golam Arshad

    Rainer: Rightly observed. Calls for more exhaustive rssearch oriented survey!

  17. Ahmed

    The survey was indeed not very representative of the population as admitted by you. It will be very difficult to carry out such a task. But it’s encouraging to see stats of some sorts of the cross sections that were participating.

  18. Remeen

    Interesting survey, I liked the report 🙂 Would’ve loved to participate, sorry I missed out. Is it still possible for you to email me a questionnaire? I’m also into social research and am just curious.

  19. Fahmi Md. Shaief

    Well, I should say a very important initiative has been taken from someone who is not a Bangladeshi. I am a student of Dhaka University. If you are interested I could gather some of my friends whom you can interview regarding this issue. You can mail me at

  20. sajjad

    ‘Bangladeshis’ and those responding to internet-based survey are not quite the same thing. The author may like to qualify the formulation of the findings.

    • Rainer Ebert

      Thank you for your comment. You are right, of course. That’s why I was very careful with my wording. When you read my text, you’ll notice that I talk about “Bangladeshis in this survey” and “respondents” rather than about Bangladeshis in general. In addition to that, I spend the last paragraph elaborating on the limited significance of this survey.

      • Prof Dr ASM Amanullah

        This is a cross-sectional descriptive study with purposively selected samples. You can treat this research as formative study and elaborate it by employing more rigorous sampling techniques/frame in future. Despite its methodological limitations, save the few, the present study findings are indicative and similar to many national studies. Some of my students at Dhaka University already did some moral belief surveys and their findings are more challenging than those of Rainer. Congrats to the researcher.

        Prof Dr ASM Amanullah
        Dhaka University

      • Rainer Ebert

        Dear Professor Amanullah, thank you for your comment. I’d love to learn more about the surveys conducted by your students. Were any of the results published?

Comments are closed.