The effects of resource inequality on bribery


People differ fundamentally in their propensity to engage in bribery. Herein, we tested the effects of inequality of (monetary) resources between bribers (individuals who can offer bribes) and bribees (individuals who might receive bribes) on bribery. We implemented a bribery game where bribers and bribees could engage in bribery to benefit themselves at the cost of others. To manipulate resource inequality, we allocated each briber with a high or a low endowment (resulting in “rich” and “poor” bribers) and matched them with a bribee who received either a high or a low endowment (resulting in “rich” and “poor” bribees). In a large-scale pre-registered study (N = 2,401), we found that rich (vs. poor) bribees exhibited a stronger preference for (1) accepting bribes from rich, rather than poor bribers, and (2) accepting higher, rather than lower bribes. Furthermore, we found that both poor and rich bribers indicated they would only accept relatively high bribes from rich (rather than poor) bribees. Finally, rich and poor bribers benefitted in different ways when engaging in bribery: to get their bribes accepted, rich bribers had to spend lower proportions of their endowments than poor bribees, however, rich bribers had to spend more in absolute terms.