Taxpayers’ Subjective Concepts of Taxes, Tax Evasion, and Tax Avoidance

  • Christoph KoglerEmail author
  • Erich Kirchler


The motivation to comply or not to comply is considerably influenced by beliefs, attitudes, and social representations of taxpayers. These subjective conceptualizations and evaluations are often not objective or true, but they determine how citizens construct their subjective reality. Attitudes, judgments, and behavior intentions eventually shape people’s behavior which is often more affected by what they think than by what actually is. We first explain what social representations are, how they are related to individual attitudes, and to what extent both social representations and attitudes shape behavior according to the existing psychological literature. In the following section we present three of our own studies on taxpayers’ social representations of taxes and their attitudes towards tax evasion and tax avoidance. These empirical studies identify relevant differences in attitudes between different occupation groups: Self-employed entrepreneurs express less favorable views on taxes and the tax authorities and as a result feel more restricted and hindered in their work, while employed workers focus stronger on the exchange function between tax payments and the resulting provision of public goods. Despite the differences, in all occupation groups tax evasion is not perceived as a severe crime and tax evaders are even judged quite positively and as more intelligent than the typical tax payer. The most recent study suggests that tax evasion might not be evaluated as positive anymore as in earlier studies, but instead tax avoidance seems to be morally accepted and taxpayers engaging in tax avoidance are judged more positive than the typical taxpayer.


  1. Abric, Jean-Claude. 1984. A Theoretical and Experimental Approach to the Study of Social Representations in a Situation of Interaction. In Social Representations, ed. Robert M. Farr and Serge Moscovici, 223–250. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Abric, Jean-Claude. 1993. Les Representations Sociales: Aspects Théoriques. In Répresentations Sociales et Pratiques, ed. Jean-Claude Abric. Paris: PUF.Google Scholar
  3. Adams, J.Stacy. 1965. Inequity in Social Exchange. In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 2, ed. Leonard Berkowitz, 267–299. New York: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ajzen, Icek. 1991. The Theory of Planned Behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 50 (2): 179–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ajzen, Icek. 1993. Attitude Theory and the Attitude-behavior Relation. In New Directions in Attitude Measurement, ed. Dagmar Krebs and Peter Schmidt, 41–57. New York: de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  6. Allingham, Michael G., and Agnar Sandmo. 1972. Income Tax Evasion: A Theoretical Analysis. Journal of Public Economics 1: 323–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Alm, James, Jorge Martinez-Vazquez, J., and Friedrich Schneider. 2004. ‘Sizing’ The Problem of the Hard-to-Tax. In Taxing the Hard-to-Tax: Lessons from Theory and Practice, ed. James Alm, Jorge Martinez-Vazquez, and Sally Wallace, 11–75. Amsterdam: Elsevier.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Alm, James, Isabel Sanchez, and Ana De Jua. 1995. Economic and Noneconomic Factors in Tax Compliance. Kyklos 48 (1): 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Alm, James, and Benno Torgler. 2006. Culture Differences and Tax Morale in the United States and in Europe. Journal of Economic Psychology 27 (2): 224–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Andreoni, James, Brian Erard, and Jonathan Feinstein. 1998. Tax Compliance. Journal of Economic Literature 36 (2): 818–860.Google Scholar
  11. Blau, Peter M. 1964. Exchange and Power in Social Life. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  12. Braithwaite, Valerie. 2003. Dancing with Tax Authorities: Motivational Postures and Non-compliant Actions. In Taxing Democracy: Understanding Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion, ed. Valerie Braithwaite, 15–39. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  13. Brehm, Jack W. 1966. A Theory of Psychological Reactance. New York: Academic Press Inc.Google Scholar
  14. Burton, Hughlene A., Stewart Karlinsky, and Cindy Blanthorne. 2005. Perception of a White-collar Crime: Tax Evasion. The ATA Journal of Legal Tax Research 3 (1): 35–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Chan, Chris W., Coleen S. Troutman, and David O’Bryan. 2000. An Expanded Model of Taxpayer Compliance: Empirical Evidence from the United States and Hong Kong. Journal of International Accounting, Auditing and Taxation 9 (2): 83–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cullis, John G., and Alan Lewis. 1997. Why People Pay Taxes: From a Conventional Economic Model to a Model of Social Convention. Journal of Economic Psychology 18 (2–3): 305–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Rosa, De, and S. Annamaria. 1995. Le „Réseau d’Associations“ comme Methode d‘Etude dans la Recherche sur les Representations Sociales: Structure, Contenus et Polarite du Champ Semantique. Cahiers Internationaux de Psychologie Sociale 15: 145–157.Google Scholar
  18. Dornstein, M. 1976. Compliance with Legal and Bureaucratic Rules: The Case of Self-employed Taxpayers in Israel. Human Relations 29 (11): 1019–1034.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Duveen, Gerard, and Barbara Lloyd. 1990. Introduction. In Social Representations and the Development of Knowledge, ed. G. Duveen and B. Lloyd. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Eagly, Alice H., and Shelly Chaiken. 1993. The Psychology of Attitudes. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.Google Scholar
  21. Elffers, Henk, Russell H. Weigel, and Dick J. Hessing. 1987. The Consequences of Different Strategies for Measuring Tax Evasion Behavior. Journal of Economic Psychology 8 (3): 311–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Farr, Robert M. 1996. The Roots of Modern Social Psychology. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  23. Fetchenhauer, Detlef. 2004. Different Perspectives on Prosocial and Antisocial Behavior. Kumulative Habilitation. Bochum: Ruhr-Universität Bochum.Google Scholar
  24. Fishbein, Martin, and Icek Ajzen. 1975. Belief, Attitude, Intention and Behavior: An Introduction to Theory and Research. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  25. Flick, Uwe. 1995. Psychologie des Sozialen. Repräsentationen in Wissen und Sprache. Reinbek: Rowohlt.Google Scholar
  26. Gangl, Katharina, Barbara Kastlunger, Erich Kirchler, and Martin Voracek. 2012. Confidence in the Economy in Times of Crisis: Social Representations of Experts and Laypeople. Journal of Socio-Economics 41: 603–614.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Groenland, Edward A.G., and Gery M. van Veldhoven. 1983. Tax Evasion Behavior: A Psychological Framework. Journal of Economic Psychology 3: 129–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kasper, Matthias, Jerome Olse, Christoph Kogler, Jennifer Stark, and Erich Kirchler. 2018. Individual Attitudes and Social Representations of Taxation, Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion. In The Routledge Companion to Tax Avoidance Research, ed. Nigar Hashimzade and Yuliya Epifantseva, 289–303. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Kirchler, Erich. 1998. Differential Representations of Taxes: Analysis of Free Associations and Judgments of Five Employment Groups. Journal of Socio-Economics 27: 117–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kirchler, Erich. 2007. The Economic Psychology of Tax Behaviour. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kirchler, Erich, B. Boris Maciejovsky, and Friedrich Schneider. 2003. Everyday Representations of Tax Avoidance, Tax Evasion, and Tax Flight: Do Legal Differences Matter? Journal of Economic Psychology 24: 535–553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lewis, Alan. 1978. Perceptions of Tax Rates. British Tax Review 6: 358–366.Google Scholar
  33. Lewis, Alan. 1982. The Psychology of Taxation. Oxford: Martin Robertson.Google Scholar
  34. McGee, Robert W. 2012. The Ethics of Tax Evasion. New York, NY: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Moscovici, Serge. 1961. La Psychanalyse, son Image et son Public. Paris: Presse Universitaire de France.Google Scholar
  36. Moscovici, Serge. 1973. Introduction. In Health and Illness: A Social Psychological Analysis, ed. Claudine Herzlich. London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  37. Moscovici, Serge. 1976. Introduction. In Social Influence and Social Change, ed. Serge Moscovici. London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  38. Moscovici, Serge. 2001. The Phenomenon of Social Representations. In Social Representations—Explorations in Social Psychology, ed. Serge Moscovici and Gerard Duveen, 18–77. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Nelson, Douglas L., Cathy L. McEvoy, and Simon Dennis. 2000. What is Free Association and What Does It Measure? Memory & Cognition 28: 887–899.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Niemirowski, Pauline, Alexander J. Wearing Steve Baldwin, Brian Leonard, and Chris Mobbs. 2002. The Influence of Tax Related Behaviours, Beliefs, Attitudes and Values on Australian Taxpayer Compliance. Is Tax Avoidance Intentional and How Serious an Offence Is It? Sydney: University of New South Wales.Google Scholar
  41. Orviska, Marta, and John Hudson. 2002. Tax Evasion, Civic Duty and the Law Abiding Citizen. European Journal of Political Economy 19 (1): 83–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Peabody, Dean. 1967. Trait Inferences: Evaluative and Descriptive Aspects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Monographs 7, Whole No. 644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Peabody, Dean. 1985. National Characteristics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Porcano, Thomas M. 1988. Correlates of Tax Evasion. Journal of Economic Psychology 9 (1): 47–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Richardson, Grant. 2008. The Relationship between Culture and Tax Evasion across Countries: Additional Evidence and Extensions. Journal of International Accounting, Auditing and Taxation 17 (2): 67–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Schmölders, Günter. 1960. Das Irrationale in der öffentlichen Finanzwirtschaft. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  47. Schneider, Friedrich, and Dominik H. Enste. 2013. The Shadow Economy: An International Survey. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Stark, Jennifer, Tarek el Sehity, and Erich Kirchler. 2017. Soziale Repräsentationen—soziale Vorstellungen. In Kommunikation, Interaktion und soziale Gruppenprozesse, ed. Hans-Werner Bierhoff and Dieter Frey. Göttingen: Hogrefe.Google Scholar
  49. Thibaut, John W., and Harold H. Kelley. 1959. Power and Dependence. The Social Psychology of Groups, 100–125. New York: Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  50. Torgler, Benno. 2012. Attitudes Toward Paying Taxes in the USA: An empirical analysis. In The Ethics of Tax Evasion, ed. Robert W. McGee, 269–283. New York, NY: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Torgler, Benno, and F. Schneider. 2009. The Impact of Tax Morale and Institutional Quality on the Shadow Economy. Journal of Economic Psychology 30 (2): 228–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Trivedi, V.Umashanker, Mohamed Shehata, and Stuart Mestelman. 2005. Attitudes, Incentives, and Tax Compliance. Canadian Tax Journal 52: 29–61.Google Scholar
  53. Veit, Otto. 1927. Grundlagen der Steuermoral. Zeitschrift für die gesamte Staatswissenschaft 83: 317–349.Google Scholar
  54. Vergès, Pierre. 1992. L’Evocation de l’Argent: Une Mèthode pour la Définition du Noyau Central d’une Représentation. Bulletin de Psychologie 45: 203–209.Google Scholar
  55. Vogel, Joachim. 1974. Taxation and Public Opinion in Sweden: An Interpretation of Recent Survey Data. National Tax Journal 27 (1): 499–513.Google Scholar
  56. Voelklein, Corina, and Caroline Howarth. 2005. A Review of Controversies about Social Representations theory: A British Debate. Culture & Psychology 11 (4): 431–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wagner, Wolfgang. 1994. Alltagsdiskurs. Die Theorie sozialer Repräsentationen. Göttingen: Hogrefe.Google Scholar
  58. Wagner, Wolfgang, Gerard Duveen Robert Farr, Sandra Jovchelovitch, Fabio Lorenzi-Cioldi, Ivana Marková, and Diana Rose. 1999. Theory and Method of Social Representations. Asian Journal of Social Psychology 2: 95–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Wagner, Wolfgang, José Valencia, and Fran Elejabarrieta. 1996. Relevance, Discourse and the “Hot” Stable Core of Social Representations-A Structural Analysis of Word Associations. British Journal of Social Psychology 35: 331–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Wahlund, Richard. 1992. Tax Changes and Economic Behavior: The Case of Tax Evasion. Journal of Economic Psychology 13 (4): 657–677.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Wallschutzky, I.G. 1984. Possible Causes of Tax Evasion. Journal of Economic Psychology 5 (4): 371–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Wärneryd, Karl-Erik, and Bengt Walerud. 1982. Taxes and Economic Behavior: Some Interview Data on Tax Evasion in Sweden. Journal of Economic Psychology 2 (3): 187–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Webley, Paul, Michaela Cole, and Ole-Petter Eidjar. 2001. The Prediction of Self-reported and Hypothetical Tax-evasion: Evidence from England, France and Norway. Journal of Economic Psychology 22 (2): 141–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wilson, Janine L. F., and Steven Sheffrin, S. 2005. Understanding Surveys of Taxpayer Honesty. FinanzArchiv: Public Finance Analysis 61(2): 256–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social Psychology, School of Social and Behavioral SciencesTilburg UniversityTilburgThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Faculty of Psychology, Department of Applied Psychology: Work, Education, and EconomyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

Personalised recommendations