Corruption, Fairness, and Inequality

22 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2014

See all articles by Gal Ariely

Gal Ariely

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Eric M. Uslaner

University of Maryland, College Park; Institute for Corruption Studies

Date Written: June 29, 2014


This study examines two prominent arguments for corruption — Uslaner’s “inequality trap” thesis, according to which high inequality leads to low trust and thus greater corruption ad infinitum — and the unfairness theory. The perception of corruption was measured across 32 countries via the 2006 Role of Government module of the International Social Survey Program (ISSP). The findings indicate that, in line with the “inequality trap” thesis, countries with higher levels of income inequality evince a higher degree of perception of corruption and, in correspondence with the unfairness thesis, that people who believe that public officials treat them fairly are less likely to perceive corruption to exist. Combining these two explanations, we employed a multilevel model to examine whether the negative correlation between fair treatment and perceptions of corruption vary in accordance with the level of country income inequality. The results indicate that the link between these variables is weaker in less equal countries than in more egalitarian countries. In unequal countries, fairness doesn't matter quite so much for corruption perceptions.

Suggested Citation

Ariely, Gal and Uslaner, Eric M., Corruption, Fairness, and Inequality (June 29, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Gal Ariely

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev ( email )

1 Ben-Gurion Blvd
Beer-Sheba 84105, 84105

Eric M. Uslaner (Contact Author)

University of Maryland, College Park ( email )

College Park, MD 20742
United States
+1301 405 4151 (Phone)
+1301 314 9690 (Fax)

Institute for Corruption Studies

Stevenson Hall 425
Normal, IL 61790-4200
United States

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