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‘Fairer Sex’ or Purity Myth? Corruption, Gender, and Institutional Context

Esarey, J. and G. Chirillo (2013). “‘Fairer Sex’ or Purity Myth? Corruption, Gender, and Institutional Context.” Politics and Gender 9(4): 390-413.
Recent research finds that states with more women involved in government are also less prone to corruption. But a review of experimental evidence indicates that women are not necessarily more intrinsically honest or averse to corruption than men in the laboratory or in the field. Rather, the attitudes and behaviors of women concerning corruption depend on institutional and cultural contexts in these experimental situations. If women’s inclination toward corruption is contextual, then what are the contexts in which we would expect female involvement in government to fight corruption? The answer is important to understand where gender equality initiatives present a cost-effective and politically feasible approach to cleaning up government. We believe that democratic institutions activate the relationship between gender and corruption. These institutions make corruption a risky proposition by shrinking the potential profit, increasing the probability of discovery, and morally stigmatizing the perpetrators. The risks are smaller in autocratic states where bribery and favoritism are often a normal part of doing business; indeed, not being corrupt may be riskier than corruption in this context. Our key argument is that women are differentialy impacted by these risks and thus feel greater pressure to conform to existing political norms about corruption.

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