The Impact of Culture on Corruption, Gross Domestic Product, and Human Development

  • Wolfgang SchollEmail author
  • Carsten C. Schermuly
Original Paper


The evidence of culture’s impact on corruption and its consequences is still inconclusive despite several investigations: (1) Sometimes, theory is lacking and causes and consequences seem exchangeable. Based on psychological research on the distribution and use of power, we predicted that a steeper distribution of power induces more corruption and elaborated its negative consequences in a complex causal model. (2) For measuring power distribution, pervading national culture, we augmented Hofstede’s ‘Power Distance’ with three additional indicators into a reversed, more reliable and valid culture composite called “Power Balanced Freedom” (PBF). (3) Instead of the usual regression and instrument approaches, which cannot estimate multiple causal chains including causal feedback, a non-recursive path analysis was employed with data from 85 nations. PBF predicted less national Corruption (62%), with positive effects on Gross Domestic Product (GDP, 72%) and Inequality Adjusted Human Development (IHDI, 66%, including Life Expectancy, Income, and Education). The often expected reverse effect of GDP on Corruption was not significant. Contrary to influential authors from economics, culture variables are the most important predictors of corruption and its consequences. Nonetheless, our extended model supports the main thrust of their ideas and adds more precision. Our conceptual distinction of the uses of power and our empirical measure PBF reflect Kant’s ethical imperative: freedom and autonomy for everyone. Widely shared life chances as measured by IHDI reflect utilitarian, consequentialist ideas. These different ethical approaches are connected in the confirmed causal model, in line with Rawls’ first and second principle of justice.


Corruption Cross cultural differences Economics Human development Power distribution Psychology 



Many thanks to Peter Graeff, Michael Johnston, Nils Köbis, Johann Graf Lambsdorff, Stefan Melnik and Evert van de Vliert for helpful commentaries and to all authors and institutions who made their multi-nations data available. We especially thank the section editor, Dr. Suhaib Riaz, and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions for improving the paper.


This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

There are no conflicts of interests.

Supplementary material

10551_2018_3977_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (283 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 283 KB)


  1. Abele, A. E., & Wojciszke, B. (Eds.). (2013). Special issue: The big two in social judgment and behavior. Social Psychology, 44, 61–176.Google Scholar
  2. Acemoglu, D., & Robinson, J. A. (2012). Why nations fail. The origins of power, prosperity, and poverty. Crown – Random House, New York. ISBN: 978-0-307-71921-8.Google Scholar
  3. Aidt, T., Dutta, J., & Sena, V. (2008). Governance regimes, corruption and growth: Theory and evidence. Journal of Comparative Economics, 36, 195–220. Scholar
  4. Aidt, T. S. (2011). Corruption and sustainable development. In S. Rose-Ackerman & T. Søreide (Eds.), International handbook on the economics of corruption, Vol (2, pp. 3–51). Cheltenham: Elgar.Google Scholar
  5. Akbar, Y. H., & Vujić, V. (2014). Explaining corruption. The role of national culture and its implications for international management. Cross Cultural Management, 21, 191–218. Scholar
  6. Alesina, A., & Giuliano, P. (2015). Culture and institutions. Journal of Economic Literature, 53, 898–944. Scholar
  7. Bagozzi, R. P., & Yi, Y. (2012). Specification, evaluation, and interpretation of structural equation models. Journal of the Academy of. Marketing Science, 40, 8–34. Scholar
  8. Baldwin, J. N., Borrelli, S. A., & New, M. J. (2011). State educational investments and economic growth in the United States: A path analysis. Social Science Quarterly, 92, 226–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality. Garden City: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  10. H. M. Blalock Jr. (Ed.). (1971). Causal models in the social sciences. Chicago: Aldine-Atherton.Google Scholar
  11. Buschmeier, U. (1995). Macht und Einfluss in Organisationen [Restrictive and promotive control in organizations]. Göttingen: Cuvillier.Google Scholar
  12. Chen, S., Lee-Chai, A. Y., & Bargh, J. A. (2001). Relationship orientation as a moderator of the effects of social power. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 173–187. Scholar
  13. Cheung, H. Y., & Chan, A. W. H. (2008). Corruption across countries: Impacts from education and cultural dimensions. The Social Science Journal, 45, 223–239. Scholar
  14. Cialdini, R. B. (1993). Influence: Science and practice (3rd edn.). New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  15. Dalberg-Acton, J. E. E. (1907). In J. N. Figgis & R. V. Laurence (Eds.), Historical essays and studies. London: Macmillan. Retrieved September 11, 2016, from,_1._Baron_Acton.
  16. Duncan, O. D. (1966). Path analysis: Sociological examples. American Journal of Sociology, 72, 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Duncan, O. D., Haller, A. O., & Portes, A. (1971). Peer influences on aspirations: A reinterpretation. In H. M. Jr & Blalock (Eds.), Causal models in the social sciences (pp. 219–244). Chicago: Aldine-Atherton.Google Scholar
  18. Etzioni, A. (1968). The active society. A theory of societal and political processes. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  19. Everett, J., Neu, D., & Rahaman, A. S. (2007). Accounting and the global fight against corruption. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 32, 513–542. 002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Georgesen, J. C., & Harris, M. J. (1998). Why’s my boss always holding me down? A meta-analysis of power effects on performance evaluations. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2, 184–195. Scholar
  21. Guiso, L., Sapienza, P., & Zingales, L. (2016). Long-term persistence. Journal of the European Economic Association, 14, 1401–1436. Scholar
  22. Hanushek, E. A., & Woessmann, L. (2012). Do better schools lead to more growth? Cognitive skills, economic outcomes, and causation. Journal of Economic Growth, 17, 267–321. Scholar
  23. Heine, S. J. (2012). Cultural psychology (2nd edn.). New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  24. Hofstede, G. (2001). Cultures’s consequences. Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations (2nd edn.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  25. House, R. J., Hanges, P. J., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P. W., & Gupta, V. (Eds.). (2004). Culture, leadership, and organizations: The globe study of 62 societies. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  26. Hoyle, R. H. (2012). Path analysis and structural equation modeling with latent variables. In American Psychological Association (Ed.), APA handbook of research methods in psychology, Vol. 2: Research designs: Quantitative, qualitative, neuropsychological, and biological (pp. 333–367). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Husted, B. W. (1999). Wealth, culture, and corruption. Journal of International Business Studies, 30, 339–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Inglehart, R., & Baker, W. E. (2000). Modernization, cultural change, and the persistence of traditional values. American Sociological Review, 65, 19–51. Scholar
  29. International Monetary Fund. (2013). Gross domestic product 2010–2012. World Economic Outlook Database, April 2013. Retrieved September 11, 2016.Google Scholar
  30. Jing, R., & Graham, J. L. (2008). Values versus regulations: How culture plays its role. Journal of Business Ethics, 80, 791–806. Scholar
  31. Johnston, M. (2014). Corruption, contention and reform: The power of deep democratization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Judge, W. Q., McNatt, D. B., & Xu, W. (2011). The antecedents and effects of national corruption: A meta-analysis. Journal of World Business, 46, 93–103. Scholar
  33. Kant, I. (1993). [1785] Grounding for the metaphysics of morals. Translated by J. W. Ellington (3rd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Hackett.Google Scholar
  34. Keltner, D., Gruenfeld, D. H., & Anderson, C. (2003). Power, approach, and inhibition. Psychological Review, 110, 265–284. Scholar
  35. Kipnis, D. (1976). The powerholders. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  36. Lambsdorff, J. G. (2006). Consequences and causes of corruption – what do we know from a cross-section of countries?”. In S. Rose-Ackerman (Ed.), International handbook on the economics of corruption (pp. 3–51). Northampton: Elgar.Google Scholar
  37. Lambsdorff, J. G., & Schulze, G. G. (2015). What can we know about corruption? A very short history of corruption research and a list of what we should aim for. Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik, 235, 100–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Leary, T. (1957). Interpersonal diagnosis of personality. New York: Ronald.Google Scholar
  39. Lee-Chai, A. Y., & Bargh, J. A. (2001). The use and abuse of power. Multiple perspectives on the causes of corruption. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  40. López, J. A. P., & Santos, J. M. S. (2014). Does corruption have social roots? The role of culture and social capital. Journal of Business Ethics, 122, 697–708. Scholar
  41. Ly, A. (2013). A critical discussion of Hofstede’s concept of Power Distance. SYNAPS, 28, 51–66.Google Scholar
  42. MacCallum, R. C., & Austin, J. T. (2000). Application of structural equation modeling in psychological research. Annual Review of Psychology, 51, 201–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. MacKinnon, N. J., & Heise, D. (2010). Self, identity and social institutions. New York: Palgrave and Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. March, J. D., & Simon, H. A. (1958). Organizations. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  45. Matsumoto, D., & Hwang, H. S. (2013). Culture. In K. D. Keith (Ed.), The encyclopedia of cross-cultural psychology (Vol. 1). Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.Google Scholar
  46. Mauro, P. (1998). Corruption and the composition of government expenditure. Journal of Public Economics, 69, 263–279. Scholar
  47. McSweeney, B. (2002). Hofstede’s model of national cultural differences and their consequences: A triumph of faith—a failure of analysis”. Human Relations, 55, 89–118. Scholar
  48. Mensah, Y. M. (2014). An analysis of the effect of culture and religion on perceived corruption in a global context. Journal of Business Ethics, 121, 255–282. Scholar
  49. Mitchell, T. R., Hopper, H., Daniels, D., Falvy, J. G., & Ferris, G. R. (1998). Power, accountability, and inappropriate actions. Applied Psychology, 47, 497–517. Scholar
  50. Mulder, M. (1977). The daily power game. Leiden: Stenfert Kroeze.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Pemstein, D., Meserve, S. A., & Melton, J. (2010). Democratic compromise: A latent variable analysis of ten measures of regime type. Political Analysis, 18, 426–449. Scholar
  52. Pieper, A. (2005). Die Ambivalenz der Macht. Ethik-Symposium des Psychiatriezentrums Münsingen, CH. Retrieved March 11, 2018, from (The ambivalence of power).
  53. Pieper, A. (2017). Einführung in die Ethik (7. aktual. Aufl.). Tübingen: Narr Francke Attempto. (Introduction to ethics, 7th ed.).Google Scholar
  54. Popper, K. R. (1945). The open society and its enemies (Vol. 2). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  55. Rawls, J. (2001). Justice as Fairness. A Restatement (E. Kelly (Ed.)). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Rose-Ackerman, S., & Palifka, B. J. (2016). Corruption and government: Causes, consequences, and reform (2nd edn.). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rothstein, B., & Teorell, J. (2008). What is quality of government: A theory of impartial political institutions. Governance—An International Journal of Policy, Administration and Institutions, 21, 165–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Rothstein, B., & Uslaner, E. M. (2005). All for all: Equality, corruption, and social trust. World Politics, 58, 41–72. Scholar
  59. Scholl, W. (1999). Restrictive control and information pathologies in organizations. Journal of Social Issues, 55, 101–118. Scholar
  60. Scholl, W. (2013). The socio-emotional basis of human interaction and communication. How we construct our social world. Social Science Information, 52, 3–33. Scholar
  61. Scholl, W. (2014). Innovationskultur, Innovationsprozesse und Innovationserfolge [Innovation culture, innovation process, and innovation success]. In W. Scholl, F. Schmelzer, S. Kunert, S. Bedenk, J. Hüttner, J. Pullen & S. Tirre (Eds.), Mut zu Innovationen – Impulse aus Forschung, Beratung und Ausbildung (S. 77–99). Wiesbaden: Springer Gabler.Google Scholar
  62. Scholl, W., & Riedel, E. (2010). Using high or low power as promotive or restrictive control—Differential effects on learning and performance. Social Influence, 5, 40–58. Scholar
  63. Schwartz, S. H. (1992). Universals in the content and structure of values: Theoretical advances and empirical tests in 20 countries. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol (25, pp. 1–65). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  64. Singh-Sengupta, S. (1997). The senior managers: Challenges and coping strategies. New Delhi: APH.Google Scholar
  65. Stiglitz, J. (2012). The price of inequality: How today’s divided society endangers our future. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  66. Stiglitz, J., Sen, A., & Fitoussi, J. P. (2010). Mismeasuring our lives. New York: The New Press.Google Scholar
  67. Thomas, W. I., & Thomas, D. S. (1928). The child in America: Behavior problems and programs. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  68. Transparency International (2016). Retrieved September 11, 2016, from
  69. Treisman, D. (2007). What have we learned about the causes of corruption from ten years of cross-national empirical research? Annual Review of Political Science, 10, 211–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. United Nations (1948). The universal declaration of human rights. Retrieved March 11, 2018, from
  71. United Nations (2016). Sustainable development goals. Retrieved February 5, 2017, from
  72. United Nations Development Program. (2014). Human development report 2014. New York: UNDP. 2016).
  73. Van de Vliert, E. (2011). Climato-economic origins of variation in ingroup favoritism. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 42, 494–515. Scholar
  74. Van de Vliert, E. (2013). Climato-economic habitats support patterns of human needs, stresses, and freedoms. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 36, 465–521. Scholar
  75. Weber, M. (1972). Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft [Economy and Society] (5th edn.) (first publ. 1921). Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck.Google Scholar
  76. World Bank (2016). Trade openness, 2010–2012. Retrieved September 11, 2016, from
  77. World Values Survey wave 4 (2004). Retrieved September 11, 2016, from tionWV4.jsp.
  78. Wortman, C. B., & Brehm, J. W. (1975). Responses to uncontrollable outcomes: an integration of reactance theory and the learned helplessness model. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 8). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für PsychologyHumboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.SRH HochschuleBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations