October 23, 2014

Where people say giving bribes gets you ahead in life

Bribery Around the World

Whether it’s to cover up a scandal or score a business contract, acts of bribery are common throughout the world.

We recently asked people in 44 countries how important certain attributes are for getting ahead in life (with 0 meaning “not important at all” and 10 meaning “very important”). While “giving bribes” ranks at the bottom compared with other factors (“having a good education” tops the list), several countries stand out for their scores when it comes to greasing the palm.

The countries where people are most likely to say bribes are important are China (with a 5.5 average rating on the 10-point scale), Jordan (5.0) and Russia (4.5); and those least likely to do so are Brazil (0.8), El Salvador (1.4) and Colombia (1.5). (The U.S. is near the low end of the scale with a 2.5 rating.) 

In China, bribery is a recurring issue, so much so that Communist Party officials focused their 2014 plenum on anti-corruption efforts, among other rule-of-law topics. One of the most popular acts of bribery in China is gift-giving to secure government contracts, according to a 2012 World Bank survey of the Chinese business sector.

To gain more insights, we looked at the distributions of people’s responses on bribery on the 0-to-10 scale within each country’s population.

In our survey, the Chinese public tends to rate the importance of “giving bribes to get ahead in life” as somewhat important (half rated it between a 6 and a 9). Just 3% say bribery is very important (rating of 10), and 5% say it is not important at all (rating of 0). Whether young or old, male or female – the Chinese public views bribery similarly.

By contrast, people in Tunisia are more polarized on their views of bribery. While the average score is 4.1, more people choose either 0 or 10 than any other rating in between (41% choose 0, 24% choose 10). It’s worth noting, though, that a higher share of Tunisians choose 10 than people in any other country surveyed.

Younger Tunisians (ages 18 to 29) are also more likely than older Tunisians (ages 50 and older) to say giving bribes is very important, choosing a 10 by a 30% to 19% margin; whereas older Tunisians are more likely to say it is not important at all (50% vs. 32% select 0).

In Brazil, the country least likely to say giving bribes is important, a solid majority (74%) says bribes are not important at all. In the U.S. – where money’s influence in politics also makes plenty of headlines – 47% say giving bribes is not important at all for getting ahead, and 6% say it is very important.

Topics: Economics and Personal Finances, Lifestyle, Business and Labor

  1. is an associate digital producer at Pew Research Center.


  1. Ron2 years ago

    I’m surprised that the countries that claim bribery is least important are mainly Latin American countries. Something tells me that this is a culture in denial.

  2. Steven3 years ago

    The question doesn’t do a good job of getting at the reality of the phenomenon. In Brazil for example, much depends on the level of transaction. Most people, in small transaction don’t need to resort to “propina” (bribery) much. It is essential in large-scale transaction (witness the CEOs arrested this week in the Lava Jato scandal). It depends also on class to a great extent. Brazilians also suffer from the practice on a such a regular basis that they might well respond to this survey’s question in the negative, as an affirmation that the practice is wrong, harmful, reprehensible… A richer set of questions would be required to get at international variations on the scope and location of such practices, which is the key issue.

  3. Vanie3 years ago

    Let me tell you how important is bribery in Brazil: Bribery is part of Brazilian people’s daily basis. They have to give money to the police officer who pulls them over for any reason or no reason at all (a few years ago you’d have to give around $25). Some give money even to the Doctors secretary to get the appointment they need! Bribery is sadly part of the Brazilian culture – the Portuguese Court brought it to Brazil and, since then, it has been disseminated like a plague! Besides, you will go ahead in life – IF you’ve got enough money to pay for it – which most of people don’t have. I wish Americans would understand that the path we are trilling right now, is leading us to a Plutocracy, and to a life that Brazilians have in their country – and it’s hell!

  4. sunil kapila3 years ago

    So it is universal affliction and I thought it was only an Indian thing.

  5. ji3 years ago

    This isn’t a moral issue. How important is it to give bribes to get ahead in life? The question is do they work. In my sheltered Middle West childhood, I wouldn’t’ve thought of bribes. In high school there was quite a broader group of students, and many believed that bribes were how you accomplished your goals. The 2 groups did not communicate much. I don’t think the bribers ever observed the alternate approach to success, and they rarely observed success by my standards.

  6. Muthyavan.3 years ago

    I am a Srilank born Canadian, lived and worked half of my life in both countries. to compare getting employed, and to rise up in higher possition, bribe and political influencing is essential in Srilanka to a scale of 8/10 and in Canada it is 1/10. Accepting Demogratic true practices is like 1/10 in Srilanka and 9/10 in Canada. Bribery and corruption are the route cause of failures in democracy. Only by strengthening the routes of democracy countries can get ride of bribery and political corruption. Chinese government has acknowledge a sudden high rise in corruption and have called a special political meeting to counter it. Indian political corruption is now seriously challenged by the judicial system and two powerful chief minister of states were recently punished by jail terms and fines. These are some recent developement arrround the world democratic reforms are slowly taking place.

  7. Paul Dulaney3 years ago

    I like Rick’s comment.

    I also think it would be interesting to ask, “How likely is it that a police officer in your country, having pulled you over for a driving violation, would forego the ticket if you paid him/her a bribe?”

  8. Rick3 years ago

    This question is ambiguous. Does it mean to ask if people think it is ok to bribe to get ahead or does it ask how much people think it is actually being used to get ahead. The answers to these two versions of this question can be very different.

    1. Alejandra3 years ago

      I don’t feel your two options acurately reflect the intent of the question. One implies a moral stance “Is it ok to bribe” and another asks a question of magnitude. I’m more inclined to think the question is about effectiveness. Mayeb the question in this case should be: If someone wanted to get ahead on life, how big an effect towards that end would bribery have?

      Of course, getting ahead in life is a bit vage, but I’m assuming it means personal power, the ability to ignore the rules and acumulating wealth at the expense of everyone else.

    2. Sarosh3 years ago

      Doesn’t the “actually being used” over a period of time progressively become “ok” ?

      1. Webster3 years ago

        No, although the perception that it is OK will likely increase. It’s wrong no matter how many people do it.