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HSE Researchers Say Only Female Public Officials Will Be Able To Eliminate Corruption in Russia

Female public officials see bribes as a problem twice as often as their male counterparts. They are less often willing to risk their jobs or take part in fraudulent activities


Situation: Russia has led a number of anticorruption campaigns over the past decade. They were aimed at changing the law and ensuring transparency of various procedures. However, none of them has brought notable success.

In fact: Anticorruption campaigns will fail unless public officials at each level of government realize the negative consequences of corruption and are committed to fight it. Officials vary in their attitude to corruption. For instance, women believe bribery is a negative factor and are determined to contribute towards rooting it out.

Now in more detail

HSE researchers — Polina Detkova, Andrey Tkachenko, and Andrey Yakovlev — have conducted an experiment involving public officials and employees of state-funded organizations involved in Russian public procurement to study the gender differences in perceiving corruption. The findings show that many women responsible for public procurement — both subordinates and executives — believe corruption presents an obstacle towards economic development. No similar result was observed among men. The findings of the research is published by Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.

What is it all about?

According to foreign research, women are less prone to corruption than men. This refers to both engagement in corrupt practices and attitude to bribery, with men being more tolerant to offering and accepting bribes. Some relevant research was conducted among male and female mayors in Brazil, and male and female managers of Eastern European companies.

Researchers name several factors that may be causes of the gender differences in corrupt behavior and attitude to corruption. For instance, women are thought to be more risk averse than men so they are less likely to be involved in risky illegal acts.

One of the studies suggests that women are less likely to reciprocate. Another study says that because women tend to be more trust-worthy than men, they seem to be more effective in promoting honest government. Moreover, some researchers refer to gender stereotypes — women are thought to be inherently more reliable and ethical than men, which can prevent their corrupt behavior.


Recent research reveals influence of institutional and cultural contexts over the relationship between corruption and gender. For instance, women are less tolerant of corruption in Australia, while no significant gender differences are seen in India, Indonesia, and Singapore. Also, while democratic societies demonstrate gender differences in perception of corruption, there is very little or no such differences in autocratic nature.

The researchers note that Russia appears to be an interesting field of study. On the one hand, the country remains to be one of the developing economies, where corruption is a problem. On the other hand, Russia has an e-Government and a high transparency of public expenditure. ‘The large number of information technologies allow controlling activities of state customers and creates technical opportunities for curbing corruption — something that many other developing countries still lack’, the authors of the study say.

The researchers focus on the public procurement sphere because that is where public officials are actively engaged in distribution of public funds. Despite a great number of studies in corruption, the authors believe that there is a lack of research showing differences in officials’ attitude to illegal practices and explaining what groups of public officials could most contribute to fighting corruption.

Previous research were based primarily on surveys among individuals and companies, as well as laboratory experiments participated by university students only. Currently ‘we are focusing our attention on ‘insiders’ of bureaucratic systems rather than on those who take real managerial decisions,’ the authors say.

How was it studied?

The researchers began by preparing a list of procurement experts’ email addresses selected from over eight million tender announcements published in Russia over 2014-2016. The data were sourced from an official website of public procurement. Around 130,000 experts’ addresses were shortlisted. Those were addresses of officials representing different levels of government, from federal to municipal authorities, with substantial experience in public procurement — at least ten tenders for the above period.

Invitations to an online survey on Anketolog were sent to the shortlisted emails in January 2017. The invitation was accepted by 1,251 respondents, with men accounting for 28% of the audience. Among the respondents were both ordinary employees (experts, 52%) and managers (heads of departments, 28%, heads or deputy heads of divisions, 20%). 69% of the respondents worked for small companies of fewer than 100 people, the others were employed by organizations of 101–250 people and more. The federal level was represented by 18% of the respondents, the regional and municipal level — by 24% and 58%, respectively. In terms of field of activities, the respondents fell into the following groups: public administration (27%), healthcare (13%), education (33%), and other (27%).

The survey shows that women with the same average work experience as men hold managerial positions far less often. Women are also older than men in similar positions, and they are more likely to work for small municipal entities. The researchers note that the majority of women respondents work in education, less often in public administration, while healthcare is a gender-balanced field.

The authors of the research used the list experiment technique, which enables receiving true replies to questions about sensitive topics that respondents may be reluctant to discuss. The method requires that the respondents are divided into the Direct Response Group and the Veiled Response Group (there can be several Veiled Response Groups if needed). The respondents are asked to report how many (rather than what) items in the list pertain to them. The Direct Response Group is presented with a list of neutral items. The Veiled Response Group is presented with an identical list plus one sensitive item, which is the focus of the survey.

Further analysis relies on comparison of average responses given by the Direct Response Group and the Veiled Response Groups and is based on the assumption that, with a random selection of respondents, the difference between these average responses will show the share of the respondents in the Veiled Response Group to whom the sensitive items pertains. The participants of the experiment do not have to worry about anonymity or privacy as the researchers can never infer an individual’s answer to the sensitive item.

For the purpose of the research described, the respondents were divided into the Direct Response Group and three Veiled Response Groups. The item under analysis included a list of problems arising at various stages of public procurement. The items was formulated as follows: ‘based on your experience, how many of the factors listed below create problems for the public procurement system in Russia. The question is not which of these factors create problems, but how many of them do so.’

The respondents are presented with the following list of items (four items for the Direct Response Group and five for the Veiled Response Groups):

Direct Response Group:

1. Low competition

2. Excessive regulation

3. Lack of transparency in procurement

4. Low level of qualifications among people engaged in the procurement process

Veiled Response Group 1:

5. Informal relationships between customers and suppliers

Veiled Response Group 2:

5. Corruption among customers

Veiled Response Group 3:

5. Corruption among suppliers

What are the findings?

The findings show that 25% of the respondents believe that public procurement is negatively influenced by informal relationships, while 29% think it is corruption among customers and 42% tend to blame corruption among suppliers.

The researchers note that these findings are comparable with the results of the surveys previously conducted in Russia among people working for private businesses. For instance, the survey of 2009 shows that 21% of top managers of processing industry enterprises believe corruption is a serious problem. According to BEEPS At-A-Glance 2011 Russia of the World Bank, respondents from 33% of Russian companies said that corruption is a serious or very serious obstacle to doing business.

As far as the gender differences is concerned, the researchers found out that 21% of male respondents see the root cause of the problem in informal relationships, 18% — in corruption among customers, and 23% — in corruption among suppliers. For women, these percentages are higher and the differences are statistically more significant — 27%, 32%, and 46%, respectively.

Women in the Veiled Response Groups 2 (corruption among customers) and Veiled Response Group 3 (corruption among suppliers) report the corruption factor 1.8-2 times more often than male respondents do.

The researchers believe these findings lead to the conclusion that a considerable number of female public officials see corruption in public procurement as a problem, while the same can hardly be said about men.

The researchers carried out a separate analysis of the top executives’ opinion. It appears that 24.3% of female top officials engaged in public procurement believe the problem lies in corruption among customers, 25.5% blame informal relationships and 56.2% corruption among suppliers. For men these percentages are 2.1%, 13.4%, and 47.5%, respectively. ‘The findings show that female top executives perceive corruption as a problem coming from both customers and suppliers, while male managers do not seem to share this point of view,’ the researchers say.

While both female and male subordinates think corruption is evil, only women of higher ranks have negative attitude to this form of dishonesty.

The researchers point out that all respondents tend to blame suppliers for corruption. Interestingly enough though, promoted men are likely to blame suppliers more often than promoted women. The female managers reported corruption among suppliers about 15% more often than women holding subordinate positions. For men this gap was over 40%.

The analysis shows that women of all level of authority regard corruption among suppliers as a negative factor. Unlike men, they also acknowledge corruption among customers.

Why should we care?

Although corruption is ubiquitous, public officials do not always see it as an obstacle to economic development. Consequently, they are not always committed to fighting it. ‘However, if there are some public officials who are ready to face the problem, their efforts could be used effectively to support anticorruption policies,’ the researchers believe.

Men and women see corruption differently for a number of reasons. Women tend to be more risk averse and they need to invest more efforts to be promoted to executive positions, which as a result they value more. The latter factor is evidenced by a recent survey in which female respondents mention they are employed by small municipal authorities and hold senior positions less often.

In the researchers’ opinion, anticorruption policies could benefit from career opportunities for the officials who value their career path and are more risk averse. However, it is not so easy to put it in practice. 'We need at least a set of special recruiting tests which have never been used in developing counties,’ the researchers say. At the same time, gender may be a factor that affects career growth. For instance, all things being equal, female candidates may be preferred. The research concludes that although negative attitude to corruption does not necessarily mean anticorruption commitment, the fact that female senior executives see illegal practices as a problem may be a precursor of effective anticorruption policies.

Author: Marina Selina, September 20, 2021