WP139: Exploiting the poor: Bureaucratic corruption and poverty in Africa


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Working papers
Justesen, Mogens K. and Christian Bjørnskov

Corruption is a major source of slow development in Africa – the poorest region of the world. While extant research has focused on the causes and consequences of corruption at the macro-level, less effort has been devoted to understanding the micro-foundation of corruption, as well as the mechanisms through which poverty may be related to corruption and bribery. In this paper, we develop a simple model of the relationship between poverty and corruption. The model suggests that poor people are more likely to be victims of corrupt behavior by street-level government bureaucrats. Poor people often rely heavily on services provided by governments and are therefore more likely to be met by demands for bribes in return for obtaining those services. We test this proposition using micro-level survey data from the Afrobarometer. Since individuals are surveyed in different countries, we use multilevel regressions to estimate the effect of poverty on people’s experience with paying bribes. The results show that poor people are indeed much more prone to pay bribes to government officials. This suggests that the people who are worst off materially are also more likely to be victims of corruption.