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The Social Norms of Tax Compliance: Evidence from Australia, Singapore, and the United States


  • Donna Bobek


  • Robin Roberts
  • John Sweeney


Tax compliance is a concern to governments around the world. Prior research (Alm, J. and I. Sanchez: 1995, KYKLOS 48, 3–19) has attributed unexplained inter-country differences in compliance rates to differences in social norms. Economics researchers studying tax compliance in the United States (U.S.) (see for example J. Andreoni et al.: 1998, Journal of Economic Literature 36, 818–860) have called for more attention to social (as opposed to economic) influences on tax compliance. In this study, we extend this prior research by explicitly examining the role of social norms [Cialdini, R. and M. Trost: 1998, The Handbook of Social Psychology (Oxford University Press, New York)] on tax compliance in three different countries. We test our research hypotheses using a hypothetical compliance scenario, which was administered in Australia, Singapore, and the U.S. There were differences in compliance rates and social norms among the three countries. Factor analysis of the social norm questions identified three distinct social norm constructs. Two of these factors were significant in explaining tax compliance behavior. The first and most influential factor was taxpayers’ own personal moral beliefs, along with the beliefs of those close to them (e.g., friends and important others). The second significant factor represented societal views of proper behavior. We conclude that social norms help to explain tax compliance intentions and why tax compliance rates are higher than would be predicted by strictly economic models. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Suggested Citation

  • Donna Bobek & Robin Roberts & John Sweeney, 2007. "The Social Norms of Tax Compliance: Evidence from Australia, Singapore, and the United States," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 74(1), pages 49-64, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:74:y:2007:i:1:p:49-64
    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-006-9219-x

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. James Andreoni & Brian Erard & Jonathan Feinstein, 1998. "Tax Compliance," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(2), pages 818-860, June.
    2. Harrison, Graeme L. & McKinnon, Jill L., 1999. "Cross-cultural research in management control systems design: a review of the current state," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 24(5-6), pages 483-506, July.
    3. Ajzen, Icek, 1991. "The theory of planned behavior," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 50(2), pages 179-211, December.
    4. Alm, James & Sanchez, Isabel & de Juan, Ana, 1995. "Economic and Noneconomic Factors in Tax Compliance," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48(1), pages 3-18.
    5. Baskerville, Rachel F., 2003. "Hofstede never studied culture," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 1-14, January.
    6. Wenzel, Michael, 2004. "An analysis of norm processes in tax compliance," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 25(2), pages 213-228, April.
    7. Bosco, Luigi & Mittone, Luigi, 1997. "Tax Evasion and Moral Constraints: Some Experimental Evidence," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 50(3), pages 297-324.
    8. Alm, James & McClelland, Gary H & Schulze, William D, 1999. "Changing the Social Norm of Tax Compliance by Voting," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(2), pages 141-171.
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    Cited by:

    1. Christiane Bradler & Robert Dur & Susanne Neckermann & Arjan Non, 2016. "Employee Recognition and Performance: A Field Experiment," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 62(11), pages 3085-3099, November.
    2. Onu, Diana & Oats, Lynne, 2016. "“Paying tax is part of life”: Social norms and social influence in tax communications," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 124(C), pages 29-42.
    3. Hallsworth, Michael & List, John A. & Metcalfe, Robert D. & Vlaev, Ivo, 2017. "The behavioralist as tax collector: Using natural field experiments to enhance tax compliance," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 148(C), pages 14-31.
    4. Barbara Culiberg & Domen Bajde, 2014. "Do You Need a Receipt? Exploring Consumer Participation in Consumption Tax Evasion as an Ethical Dilemma," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 124(2), pages 271-282, October.
    5. Donna Bobek & Amy Hageman & Charles Kelliher, 2013. "Analyzing the Role of Social Norms in Tax Compliance Behavior," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 115(3), pages 451-468, July.
    6. Jeffrey Cohen & Gil Manzon & Valentina Zamora, 2015. "Contextual and Individual Dimensions of Taxpayer Decision Making," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 126(4), pages 631-647, February.
    7. Nordblom, Katarina, 2017. "Tax Morale and Policy Intervention," Working Papers in Economics 711, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    8. repec:eee:joepsy:v:62:y:2017:i:c:p:284-294 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Pailin Trongmateerut & John Sweeney, 2013. "The Influence of Subjective Norms on Whistle-Blowing: A Cross-Cultural Investigation," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 112(3), pages 437-451, February.
    10. repec:eee:joepsy:v:62:y:2017:i:c:p:63-71 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Demirbag, Mehmet & Frecknall-Hughes, Jane & Glaister, Keith W. & Tatoglu, Ekrem, 2013. "Ethics and taxation: A cross-national comparison of UK and Turkish firms," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 100-111.
    12. Gobena, Lemessa Bayissa & Van Dijke, Marius, 2016. "Power, justice, and trust: A moderated mediation analysis of tax compliance among Ethiopian business owners," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 52(C), pages 24-37.
    13. repec:mgt:youmng:v:12:y:2017:i:4:p:333-353 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Adam Adamczyk, 2015. "Fiscal Efficiency of VAT in EU Member States," Eurasian Journal of Economics and Finance, Eurasian Publications, vol. 3(2), pages 23-29.
    15. Anna Alon & Amy Hageman, 2013. "The Impact of Corruption on Firm Tax Compliance in Transition Economies: Whom Do You Trust?," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 116(3), pages 479-494, September.
    16. Blanthorne, Cindy & Kaplan, Steven, 2008. "An egocentric model of the relations among the opportunity to underreport, social norms, ethical beliefs, and underreporting behavior," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 33(7-8), pages 684-703.

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