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Corruption Weighed by Post-Material Values

If the majority of a country’s population moved from values of survival to values of self-expression, individuals with both types of values will try to avoid corrupt behaviour. But if, as in Russia, values of survival prevail in society, individuals with values of self-expression are inclined to act corruptly. This is the conclusion of a study by Maria Kravtsova and Alexey Oshchepkov

Maria Kravtsova, Associate Fellow at the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Studies, and Alexey Oshchepkov, Senior Research Fellow at the HSE Center for Labour Studies, investigated the correlation between attitudes to corruption and development of post-materialist values. For this, the researchers used the data from the third to the fifth waves of the World Values Survey.

Struggle for survival causes bribery

‘Corruption must have deep foundations, since, despite anti-corruption measures, it takes dozens of years to overcome this phenomenon’, the researchers say. They believe that social values are the key to understanding the deep foundations of corruption.

Various academic studies say that the more an individual is worried about security and survival, the more he or she is inclined to approve of such phenomenon as corruption. But ‘in relative physical and economic security, a shift in social values has taken place in most Western European states. Many people have started to value such things as freedom of speech or environment protection higher than a strong army, economic growth, or low inflation’, M. Kravtsova and A. Oshchepkov explain. This is what they call the ‘post-materialist’ type of values.

Studying materialist and post-materialist values has become popular since WWII. American researcher Ronald Inglehart developed a method of categorizing people as materialists and post-materialists.

One of the authors’ main hypotheses is that post-materialist values are incompatible with corruption. Post-materialists feel safer and are more satisfied with their quality of life, and that’s why they don’t feel the need to give bribes to ensure their own survival. Materialists, on the contrary, can perceive corruption as a mechanism for providing personal security, which is used in the context of a lack of guarantees of protection from legal institutions.

When freedom is harmful

However, people with values of self-expression can approve of corruption in certain situations, the researchers discovered. According to Kravtsova,and Oshchepkov, the reason for this is in the ambivalence of post-materialist values. On one hand, an individual can support ideas of social justice and democracy, and, on the other hand, ignore the common norms.

‘Many researchers mention that the shift to post-materialist values is accompanied by the process of individualization’, the authors say. Individualists get enough material and information resources to develop their own values and norms, which are not necessarily in line with traditional ones. As a result, free-minded people become inclined to deviant behaviour, since they are less influenced by common social norms. ‘This means that post-materialists start feeling more ‘relaxed’ in terms of corruption problems’, the authors conclude.

It’s interesting that people who totally or partly perceived post-material values, start perceiving corruption even better than pure materialists. ‘If we look at the whole sample of countries in the WVS, post-materialists generally approve of corruption more than materialists’, Maria Kravtsova emphasizes.

Trying to investigate the question of why the ‘dark side’ of post-materialism outweighs the ‘light side’, the authors detected some interesting specifics of attitude to corruption among various demographics.

Married people are more inclined to justify corruption than single people or people without children who don’t face problems of arranging a kindergarten or a good school for their offspring. Women justify corruption less often than men. Older age, education, high revenues and a stable job also promote a negative attitude to corruption. And people who work part-time or are self-employed are more inclined to justify corruption. This is probably because they are more involved in informal relations, the authors explain.

The power of society

Under what circumstances do post-material values start playing against corruption?

The authors found that individual attitudes to corruption strongly depend on how widespread post-material values are among the population of a certain country. In other words, individuals are influenced by the people around them. ‘The larger the share of post-materialists in a country, the less each of them justifies corruption’, M. Kravtsova and A. Oshchepkov explain.

This helps understand why the level of corruption is so high in Russia. ‘The share of post-materialists is extremely low in Russia. For a country with our level of socio-economic development it needs to be much higher. Ronald Inglehart explains this with the shock Russia experienced during its post-Soviet transformation. During this time, the level of physical and economic security fell, and, therefore, most people started sharing materialist values. Today a transition to post-materialist values is gradually taking place, but it is very slow’, Maria Kravtsova says.

The authors believe that calculating the complicated correlation between values and attitude to corruption can be used for the anti-corruption struggle, when considering candidates’ appointments to responsible state positions. Specifically, in countries with low shares of post-materialists, it is better to give preference to people with more materialist views. ‘If we assign representatives of the post-materialist minority to official state positions, this will only promote the growth of corruption’, Maria Kravtsova says. In developed countries, where there is a majority of post-materialists, on the contrary, it makes sense to appoint them to state positions, since in these circumstances they are less inclined to corruption than materialists.

Presentation to the study

 

Author: Marina Selina, July 11, 2013