Education Level and Ethical Attitude toward Tax Evasion: A Six-Country Study

Article excerpt


The purpose of this study is twofold - to review and summarize the findings of more than 30 prior studies that surveyed student opinions on the ethics of tax evasion, and to expand on that literature by examining the relationship between level of education and views on the ethics of tax evasion using a larger, more heterogeneous demographic. A number of surveys of student opinion have been conducted, both in the United States and elsewhere, soliciting the opinions of various student groups on the ethics of tax evasion. Students in various disciplines and students at various levels of education (graduate and undergraduate) were asked their opinions regarding when tax evasion could be justified on ethical grounds. The present study summarizes and analyzes those findings for the first time. The second part of the paper uses the Human Values data that was gathered by social scientists in Brazil, Russia, India, China, the USA and Germany and examines the relationship between level of education and attitude toward tax evasion, using a 10-point Likert Scale. An analysis of the data found that education level does make a difference in attitude toward tax evasion, as do gender and age, in some cases.


Most studies on tax evasion have taken an economics or public finance perspective. They have focused on technical issues such as optimum tax rates, optimum evasion, reasons for suboptimum compliance, and so forth (Hyman, 1999; Marlow, 1995; Musgrave, 1959, 1986; Musgrave & Musgrave, 1976; Musgrave & Peacock, 1958; Rosen, 1999). Accounting journals have published articles that focus on practitioner issues, including professional ethics, but those studies have emphasized professional codes of ethics and how to conduct a tax practice that complies with the law and with the rules of professional conduct (Armstrong & Robison, 1998; Oliva, 1998). Some studies have appeared in the psychology literature that examine the psychological issues involved in tax evasion (Aim & Torgler, 2006; Kirchler, 2007; Kirchler, Muehlbacher, Kastlunger & Wahl, 2010; Torgler & Schneider, 2009).

In recent years, a number of studies have addressed ethical issues in tax evasion. Some of those studies have been theoretical in nature while others have been empirical. The present study begins with a review of the main ethical literature, then proceeds to examine prior student survey literature in more depth to determine what student opinion has been on the ethics of tax evasion.

We then use the Human Values data for Brazil, Russia, India, China, the USA and Germany to determine whether the level of education is related to views on tax evasion. The total sample size for the six countries in this study is 10, 034.


Perhaps the most comprehensive theoretical study of tax evasion in the twentieth century was done by Martin Crowe (1944), who surveyed 500 years of mostly Catholic literature on tax evasion, much of which was in Latin. Torgler (2003 a) wrote a more recent dissertation on the topic. McGee has written several books (McGee, 1998a; 2004; 2012) and theoretical articles (McGee, 1994; 2001; 2006a) on the ethics of tax evasion. Aim, Torgler and others have done empirical studies on various aspects of the ethics of tax evasion in various accounting (McGee, 2006b; McGee & Tyler, 2007; McGee, 2008a), business ethics (McGee, Ho & Li, 2008) economics (Frey & Torgler, 2007; Martinez- Vazquez & Torgler, 2009; McGee & López, 2007; Torgler, 2006a; Torgler & Valev, 2010; Torgler, Demir, Macintyre & Schaffner, 2008), management (McGee, Noronha & Tyler, 2007; McGee & Noronha, 2008), public finance (Aim & Torgler, 2004; Aim, Martinez-Vazquez & Torgler, 2005; McGee, 2006c&d, 2007, 2009; Torgler, 2006b), public policy (Torgler, 2005), legal (Gupta & McGee, 2010a&b; McGee & Gelman, 2009), criminology (Torgler, 2010), tax (Bird, Martinez- Vazquez & Torgler, 2004), social science (Torgler & Schneider, 2007) and sociological (Aim, Martinez- Vazquez & Torgler, 2006) journals. …


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