What Drives Citizen Perceptions of Government Corruption? National Income, Petty Bribe Payments and the Unknown

  • Nancy Birdsall
  • Charles Kenny
  • Anna Diofasi
Part of the International Economic Association Series book series (IEA)


Low trust in government and the widespread sense that public institutions are corrupt appears to be a global phenomenon, and a challenge to effective governance. We use the Global Corruption Barometer with responses from individuals in 117 countries to probe what drives citizen perceptions of corruption and propensity to pay bribes. Our analysis of the role of particular individual characteristics on perceptions of corruption (including age, gender, self-reported income level, education and employment status) suggests that there is at least somewhat of a common sense across individuals of how corrupt a particular service is in their country, but other—largely unobservable—factors account for most of any particular individual’s responses. A second analysis of the relationship between country averages of perceptions of corruption and country-level explanatory variables (including GDP per capita, democracy, inequality, the probability of bribe payment as well as a service performance measure for each service) shows a strong negative association between GDP per capita and perceptions of corruption and a strong positive association between bribe payments and perceptions of corruption. We find little evidence of association between service performance measures and country averages of corruption perceptions in a given sector. We repeat the same analyses on the individual and the country levels using bribe payment as our dependent variable. Our findings suggest that GDP per capita lowers perceptions of corruption through its influence on bribe payments. A plausible conclusion from that interpretation would be that the one reliable tool we appear to have to reduce perceptions of corruption is development and associated increases in GDP per capita itself.


Corruption Bribes Economic development 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Global DevelopmentWashington, DCUSA

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