Does Legitimacy Mitigate Corruption? The Relevance of Social Traps in Low-corruption Contexts

Gissur Erlingsson, Guðbjörg Andrea Jónsdóttir, Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


People tend to accept decisions if the process leading up to them is perceived as legitimate. However, the literature seldom asks if perceived legitimacy translates to compliant, non-corrupt behavior. Thus, the association between legitimacy and corruption is curiously understudied. This paper argues that, while legitimation may contribute to acceptance of authority, it does not necessarily lead to compliance with anti-corruption norms. Analysing a mature democracy characterised by absence of endemic corruption, it finds that while legitimacy may, to a small extent, contribute to compliance with anti-corruption norms, it is in most cases insufficient to overcome incentives of self-interested behavior. Instead, compliance with anti-corruption norms crucially depends on individuals’ perceptions of how willing others are to take part, or not to take part, in corruption. This implies support for the ‘social trap’-view of corruption, where credible enforcement of non-corruption norms is crucial to persuading people not to take part in it.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Public Administration
Publication statusPublished - 6 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

Other keywords

  • compliance
  • corruption
  • Legitimacy
  • norms
  • social traps


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