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Level of corruption in rich democracies often underestimated in international comparisons

International comparisons of corruption have a tendency to fail to identify the corruption that takes place in Sweden and other rich democracies. This is shown by the results in a research article written by Staffan Andersson, political scientist and corruption researcher at Linnaeus University.

In the dominating way of measuring, countries are ranked on a scale where each country gets a score representing its level of corruption. The most well-known measure, among many other similar ones, is the international organisation Transparency International's annual survey of corruption, in which countries are ranked on a scale from 1–100. The higher the score the less corruption in the country, according to the index. As a general rule one can say that rich, industrialised countries get high rankings, while development countries end up at the bottom of the list.

However, the comparison between countries is problematic since it simplifies the picture of what corruption actually is, means Staffan Andersson, corruption researcher and associate professor in political science. In his most recently published research article, he investigates corruption and in what ways this tends to be measured. The different methods for measuring corruption levels primarily registers bribery. Research shows that other forms of corruption are more common in democratic, rich countries, like Sweden.

"One problem with these surveys is that they presume that corruption can only vary in extent between countries, not in form. Since bribery is the corruption form that is most frequently registered in the surveys, the results show a distorted picture of reality. Corruption occurs in rich countries as well, but in a different way", explains Staffan Andersson.

In rich democracies, corruption can instead take the form of favouritism, paid trips, or job appointments that are not carried out properly. It can also involve more soft forms of abuse of power, which is often more difficult to keep track of and discover than bribery. Corruption is a spectra in which a number of actions should be included, means Staffan Andersson. Moreover, the idea of what corruption is changes over time, and another important difference is that the law concerning corruption differs between different countries. What counts as corruption in one country may not be considered corruption in another country – which makes it difficult to investigate and compare corruption based on crime statistics.

"Today, there is no good alternative to the type of survey represented by Transparency International when trying to make comparisons between the levels of corruption between countries. However, my results show that the picture of corruption is not simple and that these surveys need some type of supplement from other corruption data that also takes in to account that the forms of corruption vary", Staffan Andersson concludes.

More information

Andersson, S., 2017, Beyond Unidimensional Measurement of Corruption, Public Integrity, 19(1), pp.58–76.


Staffan Andersson, +46(0)470-76 74 20
Tove Nordén, communications officer, +46(0)70-367 14 53