Monday, April 11, 2016

Gendered Perceptions of Corruption

In the past 15 years, academics studying corruption have examined the relationship between women in government and corruption.  In the early 2000s several studies found a strong correlation between the levels of women in government and the levels of reported and perceived corruption (Swamy et al, 2001; Dollar, Fisman, Gatti 2001).  They claimed to show that women are less involved in bribery, and are less likely to condone bribery.  Their data seems to show that corruption is less severe where women hold a larger share of parliamentary seats and senior positions in the government bureaucracy.
In response to the research of Swamy et al and Dollar et al, later studies argue that the relationship observed was spurious and that the causation actually flowed in the opposite way.  (Sung, 2003).  Sung in his article critiques the argument of Swamy and colleagues, arguing that the study suffers from a basic flaw of correlation being confused as causation.  Sung argues and attempts to show that the incidence of corruption is decreased not by women in the legislature but the fairer system itself.  Similarly Goetz argues that women in less developed countries simply have fewer opportunities to engage in corruption as most of such countries have strong closed networks of men where most of the corruption occurs (Goetz 2007). 
The relationship between gender and corruption seems to have become murkier as more studies have been done with different outcomes.  Part of the reason different outcomes have been observed is the different ideologies that have guided parameters of studies.  Indeed “corruption and corruption perception can be considered as cultural phenomena because they depend on how a society understands the rules and what constitutes a deviation.  Indeed, it does not depend only on societies but also on personal values and moral vies” (Melgar, Rossi, Smith 2010).  Gender roles and expectations of behavior are also heavily influenced by culture and individual opinions and choices. 
Gender Bias
The differences in historical gender roles have led to biases in the way women are perceived in government and the public sphere.  This distinction has been measured and documented principally in voting practices.  Gender has been shown to influence elections in low-information voters (McDermott 1997), presidential elections (Smith, Paul, Paul 2007) and legislative elections post 9-11 (Lawless 2004). 
Perception of Corruption
Treisman writes that “controlling for income, most factors that predict perceived corruption do not correlate with recently available measures of actual corruption experiences (based on surveys of business people and citizens that ask whether they have been expected to pay bribes recently)” (Treisman 2007).  This shows that the subjective measures such as perception of corruption are not necessarily as accurate as some groups may claim. They are clouded by many different factors. One of the factors that muddies the water is the relationship partisanship has on perception and tolerance of corruption. A survey experiment was carried out in Spain where there have been numerous corruption scandals recently. The results show that the same crime is viewed differently depending on whether the responsible actor is a member of the respondent’s party or in the opposition (Anduiza, Gallego, Muñoz 2013).
   The survey I created to test my hypothesis was an electronic survey with two scenarios of an ambiguous situation that could be construed as corruption.  The first question read as follows: “City Councilman Tom Johnson is head of the public lands subcommittee.  Two months ago a proposal for a new library was passed in the city council.  As the head of the subcommittee he selected the site of the new library.  The site he selected is owned by a member of his constituency who he expects to donate to his campaign this year.  Did corruption occur here?” The second question is almost identical, except for the fact that the politician is a fictional “Congresswoman Claire Woods.”
The survey that I distributed over 7 days had a total number of 87 respondents.  This smaller number presents the first limitation to my study.  In order to have an adequate margin of error, with 95% certainty, the sample size would have to be significantly larger than the sample I was able to draw.  Nevertheless, this sample is large enough to notice trends, despite its small size. It does not however allow for highly accurate conclusions to be drawn about a large population such as the US.
The second limitation is the relative homogeneity of the sample.  For example the respondents to the survey were 75% women and almost 90% were Caucasian.  Similarly over 60% self-identified as Republican in political orientation.  This is probably the biggest obstacle to my survey, as the emerging trends could possibly be heavily affected by biases of different racial and social groups.  I hypothesized that respondents to the survey would be more tolerant of a woman in a morally ambiguous situation than a man. 
My hypothesis was disproven in the results of the survey, as the response rates indicating corruption in the two scenarios did not vary to a degree large enough to be statistically significant. The perception of corruption is a more complicated relationship than a binary variable of male or female. Perceptions and biases are a cocktail of nature and nurture. Our different cultures and life experiences influence the way we perceive everything, including corruption. In the case of women and government, Beaman et al (2008) concluded that perceptions of women can be changed by exposure to women in government in places like India. This is just one example that shows the fluid nature of our conscious perceptions and biases. Due to the complex nature of perception, attempting to isolate the gender factor among others is extremely difficult. To conclude, in order to more perfectly identify the exact influences of gender on corruption perception, more information is needed to isolate and control for obfuscating factors like party identity, culture, social status etc. By controlling for these factors in a larger population, the magnitude of the effect would be easier to distill with greater certainty.

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