The attitudes and conduct of some 29,760 high school students across the United States "doesn't bode well for the future when these youngsters become the next generation's politicians and parents, cops and corporate executives, and journalists and generals," the non-profit Josephson Institute said.
In its 2008 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, the Los Angeles-based organization said the teenagers' responses to questions about lying, stealing and cheating "reveals entrenched habits of dishonesty for the workforce of the future."
Boys were found to lie and steal more than girls.
Overall, 30 percent of students admitted to stealing from a store within the past year, a two percent rise from 2006. More than one third of boys (35 percent) said they had stolen goods, compared to 26 percent of girls.
An overwhelming majority, 83 percent, of public school and private religious school students admitted to lying to their parents about something significant, compared to 78 percent for those attending independent non-religious schools.
"Cheating in school continues to be rampant and it's getting worse," the study found. Amongst those surveyed, 64 percent said they had cheated on a test, compared to 60 percent in 2006. And 38 percent said they had done so two or more times.
Despite no significant gender differences on exam cheating, students from non-religious independent schools had the lowest cheating rate, 47 percent, compared to 63 percent of students attending religious schools.
"As bad as these numbers are, it appears they understate the level of dishonesty exhibited by America's youth," the study warned, noting than more than a fourth of the students (26 percent) admitted they had lied on at least one or two of the survey questions.
"Despite these high levels of dishonesty, these same kids have a high self-image when it comes to ethics."
Some 93 percent of students indicated satisfaction with their own character and ethics, with 77 percent saying that "when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know."