Corruption, fairness, and inequality

Gal Ariely, Eric M. Uslaner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


This study examines two prominent arguments underlying perceptions of 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 31 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 does not matter quite so much for corruption perceptions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-362
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Political Science Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2017


  • Perceptions of corruption
  • income inequality
  • unfairness theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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