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Working paper

Corruption and social values: Do postmaterialists justify bribery?

Using World Values Survey data from dozens of countries around the world, this article analyzes the relationship between postmaterialist values and attitudes towards bribery in a multi-level framework. This is an inherently interesting and under-researched topic because the various propensities attributed to postmaterialism lead to conflicting expectations about how these values affect attitudes towards bribery. On one hand, the alleged tendency of postmaterialists towards impartiality should lead them to condemn bribery. On the other hand, condemning bribery is a social desirability issue and postmaterialists are known to be less susceptible to desirability pressures and more relaxed about norm deviations. From this point of view, postmaterialists might react more tolerant to bribery. Reflecting these conflicting expectations, we obtain an ambivalent result, evident in an inverted U-shaped relationship: as we move from pure materialism to mixed positions, people tend to justify bribery more but then moving from mixed positions to pure postmaterialism, people become again more dismissive of bribery. What is more, the demographic prevalence of postmaterialists in a country moderates these values’ effect on bribery: where postmaterialists are more prevalent, the disapproving effect on bribery outweighs the approving effect. This finding contributes to a better understanding of the pronounced negative correlation between corruption and postmaterialism at the country level and has some important implications.