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Social norms and tax compliance: Framing the decision to pay tax


  • Cullis, John
  • Jones, Philip
  • Savoia, Antonio


Observed levels of tax compliance are higher than predicted levels (when predictions are based on Allingham and Sandmo's neoclassical model of tax evasion). They are higher if social norms recognise the importance of compliance. But how do social norms frame decisions to pay tax? Can prospect theory be applied to shed insight into the way that social norms exert their influence? An analysis of questionnaire responses (from Italy and from the UK) suggests that they exert their influence by changing the reference points that individuals use when they code changes as ‘gains’, or ‘losses’. The evidence suggests that social norms frame the decision to pay tax by changing individuals’ perceptions of their entitlement to income. This consideration is important when designing policy to deter evasion.

Suggested Citation

  • Cullis, John & Jones, Philip & Savoia, Antonio, 2012. "Social norms and tax compliance: Framing the decision to pay tax," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 41(2), pages 159-168.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:soceco:v:41:y:2012:i:2:p:159-168 DOI: 10.1016/j.socec.2011.12.003

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Barile, L., 2012. "The Impact of Governmental Signals on Environmental Morale:a 'behavioural' approach," Department of Economics Working Papers 32984, University of Bath, Department of Economics.
    2. Korndörfer, Martin & Krumpal, Ivar & Schmukle, Stefan C., 2014. "Measuring and explaining tax evasion: Improving self-reports using the crosswise model," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 18-32.
    3. Tubetov, Dulat & Maart, Syster Christin & Musshoff, Oliver, 2012. "Comparison of the Investment Behavior of German and Kazakhstani Farmers: an Experimental Approach," Discussion Papers 122422, Georg-August-Universitaet Goettingen, GlobalFood, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development.
    4. Christoph Bühren & Thorben C. Kundt, 2013. "Worker or Shirker – Who Evades More Taxes? A Real Effort Experiment," MAGKS Papers on Economics 201326, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Faculty of Business Administration and Economics, Department of Economics (Volkswirtschaftliche Abteilung).
    5. Imes, Amanda J. Thoe, 2013. "An examination of the sales and use tax gap based on Minnesota audit experience," Master's Theses 157013, University of Minnesota, Department of Applied Economics.
    6. Tubetov, Dulat & Maart, Syster Christin & Musshoff, Oliver, 2012. "Comparison of the investment behavior of Kazakhstani and German farmers: An experimental approach," 2012 Conference, August 18-24, 2012, Foz do Iguacu, Brazil 125218, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
    7. Kaplanoglou, Georgia & Rapanos, Vassilis T., 2015. "Why do people evade taxes? New experimental evidence from Greece," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 21-32.
    8. Francesco Busato & Francesco Giuli, 2014. "Tax evasion and Prospect Theory in a OLG economy," Departmental Working Papers of Economics - University 'Roma Tre' 0196, Department of Economics - University Roma Tre.
    9. Eiji Yamamura, 2015. "Norm for redistribution, social capital, and perceived tax burden: comparison between highand low-income households," Review of Economics and Institutions, Università di Perugia, vol. 6(2).
    10. Brizi, Ambra & Giacomantonio, Mauro & Schumpe, Birga M. & Mannetti, Lucia, 2015. "Intention to pay taxes or to avoid them: The impact of social value orientation," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 22-31.
    11. Aurélie Bonein & Cécile Bazart, 2017. "The Strength of the Symbol: Are we Willing to Punish Evaders ?," Working Papers 17-02, LAMETA, Universtiy of Montpellier.

    More about this item


    Taxation; Decision making; Prospect theory; National identity: education;

    JEL classification:

    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • H29 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Other


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