Academic journal article Journal of Social Research & Policy

Acceptance of Corrupt Acts: A Comparative Study of Values regarding Corruption in Europe

Academic journal article Journal of Social Research & Policy

Acceptance of Corrupt Acts: A Comparative Study of Values regarding Corruption in Europe

Article excerpt


The present contribution seeks to explain variation in the degree of acceptance of corrupt acts by taking into consideration both individual characteristics and societal ones. We used a large dataset covering 43 European countries and employed multi-level models in order to disentangle the compositional and contextual effects. Our main findings suggest that young single Europeans with no occupation but with material possibilities are more likely to consider corrupt acts as being acceptable. The presence of a partnership and of children as well as high confidence in the governance bodies of a country makes corrupt acts less acceptable. In addition, the society where one lives is also important: individuals living in the former soviet countries display on average higher acceptance of corrupt acts than individuals living in the former communist block or in long established democracies. This conclusion holds also after controlling for how widespread corruption is in these countries or how high their income inequality is.

Keywords: Corruption, Values, Communism, Europe


It is a generally accepted idea that corruption is one of the main problems that stands against the social and economic development of societies (Mauro 1995; Bardhan 1997; Li, Xu et al. 2000). For instance bribery, a form of corrupt behavior, is considered so harmful that OECD has initiated in 1997 a formal Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, asking for the member states to enact laws and regulations that forbid tax deductibility of bribe (OECD, 2011).The political discussions around the potential harmful impact of corruption on the social, political and economic realms reflected also on the research agenda, inspiring several initiatives that aimed at quantifying the level of corruption and to evaluate its causes and its social effects (Treisman 2000; Sandholtz & Taagepera 2005; You & Khagram 2005; Tavits 2008; Uslaner 2009). Despite the ardent interest in the topic, preference was given to measuring and explaining levels of corruption at country level (Dreher, Kotsogiannis et al. 2007), and relatively little attention was given to studies on how individuals think about corruption and to what degree they find it acceptable or not. For instance, Gatti, Paternostro & Rigolini (2003) reported only one previous study that investigated the differences between individuals in their attitudes toward corrupt acts (Swamy, Knack et al. 2001). We argue that taking an actor perspective is valuable since the acceptance of corruption by individuals, taken as a value orientation, might have potential consequences for individual behavior and also for society at large. For instance, policies targeted at reducing levels of corruption might be hindered or even rendered inefficient if the population has in fact a high level of acceptance of corrupt behavior. In addition, higher acceptance of corrupt acts might also facilitate the engagement in and decrease the level of informal sanctions of corrupt behavior. If so, identifying which groups of population manifest lower or higher acceptance of corrupt behaviors is a valuable piece of information for targeted policies aimed at reducing corruption.

While the individual differences in the acceptance of corrupt acts received some attention from previous studies, scholars also pointed out that the attitudes toward corruption differ between social contexts. For example, Gatti, Paternostro & Rigolini (2003) show that the average acceptance of corruption varies between countries and the authors argue that the social environment has a significant influence on the individuals' attitudes toward corruption. The same argument was brought forward also by Cameron et al. (2009) who, based on an experimental study carried out in four countries, found evidence for the variation across cultures in the propensity of individuals to punish corrupt acts. …

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