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Who's more corrupt, men or women?

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Study suggests women are less corrupt

If you watch the news, you know there are plenty of stories about corruption on every level, especially as it pertains to politics. And, if current headlines are any indication, it doesn't seem to matter if you're male or female – political corruption is rampant, regardless of gender.

However, according to a new study from Rice University, researchers found that women are less likely than men to engage in political corruption, but only in countries where corruption is denounced.

As the researchers explain in the paper, “'Fairer Sex' or Purity Myth? Corruption, Gender and Institutional Context", the results of the study found that women are more likely to disapprove of and tolerate corrupt behavior, but only in democratic governments that typically punish the misappropriation of public policy for private gain.

"The relationship between gender and corruption appears to depend on context," said lead study author Justin Esarey, an assistant professor of political science at Rice University.

"When corruption is stigmatized, as in most democracies, women will be less tolerant and less likely to engage in it compared with men,” he added. “But if 'corrupt' behaviors are an ordinary part of governance supported by political institutions, there will be no corruption gender gap."

As Esarey pointed out, previous studies show that increased female participation in government, as in the legislature, is associated with lower levels of perceived corruption. However, he said that his research shows that this relationship does not exist in autocracies, where women might feel more compelled to go along with the status quo than challenge the system.

"States that have more corruption tend to be less democratic," Esarey said. "In autocracies, bribery, favoritism and personal loyalty are often characteristic of normal government operations and are not labeled as corruption."

He theorized that many women feel bound by their society's political norms, including when they make decisions as government officials.

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"In short, recruiting women into government would be unlikely to reduce corruption across the board," Esarey said.

The study was completed in two parts, the first of which evaluated corruption at the national level, with the second part evaluating attitudes toward corruption on an individual level in 68 countries, using data from the World Values Survey (WVS), which surveys how much corruption is tolerated on a individual level. The data was collected between 1999 and 2002.

The researchers concluded that the evidence showed that the relationship between gender and corruption differs by institutional context.

“We think this is because women are more averse to the risks of violating political norms, and because gender discrimination makes violating institutional norms a riskier proposition for women than men,” they explained. “Where corruption is stigmatized, women will be less tolerant of corruption and less likely to engage in it compared to men. But if ‘corrupt’ behaviors are an ordinary part of governance supported by political institutions, there will be no corruption gender gap.”

In their paper, the authors state that attitudinal data from the World Values Survey and behavioral outcomes measured by corruption indices are consistent with this story.

“Female disapproval of bribe-taking is greater than male disapproval, but only in countries with democratic institutions. We think this result can be interpreted to mean that female attitudes are constrained to follow their society’s political norms: the more that the society disapproves of corruption, the more that women disproportionately express disapproval of corruption,” they write.

The study, which was co-authored by Gina Chirillo, program assistant for the Central and West Africa team at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in Washington, D.C., will be published in an upcoming edition of Politics and Gender.

Esarey says he hopes that the study will encourage other researchers to examine more closely the effect of gender discrimination on corruption around the world.

SOURCE: Rice University, “Fairer Sex” or Purity Myth? Corruption, Gender, and Institutional Context, Justin Esarey and Gina Chirillo (September 7, 2013)