Analyzing the Role of Social Norms in Tax Compliance Behavior

Journal of Business Ethics 115 (3):451-468 (2013)
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The purpose of this study is to explore with more rigor and detail the role of social norms in tax compliance. This study draws on Cialdini and Trost’s (The Handbook of Social Psychology: Oxford University Press, Boston, MA, 1998) taxonomy of social norms to investigate with more specificity this potentially decisive (Alm and McKee, Managerial and Decision Economics, 19:259–275, 1998) influence on tax compliance. We test our research hypotheses regarding the direct and indirect influences of social norms using a hypothetical compliance scenario with 174 experienced taxpayers as participants. Factor analysis of the social norm questions successfully identified four distinct social norm constructs, in line with Cialdini and Trost (1998). Results of the path analysis show that individuals’ standards for behavior/ethical beliefs (personal norms) as well as the expectations of close others (subjective norms) directly influence tax compliance decisions, whereas general societal expectations (injunctive norms) and other individuals’ actual behavior (descriptive norms) have an indirect influence. This shows that social norms have important direct as well as indirect influences on tax compliance behavior. We also investigate a number of attitudinal variables that may be related to social norms and taxpayer compliance. The results of this study further clarify the important role that social norms have with regard to taxpayers’ compliance behavior



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