The role of social norms in tax compliance: theoretical overview and practical implications

Diana Onu, Lynne Oats


Within fields as diverse as psychology, economics, sociology, and law, tax researchers have become increasingly interested in how societal norms influence individuals to comply (or not) with tax laws. However, it is not always apparent how these insights may contribute to tax administration and tax policy. First, this paper will present an overview of current research on social norms and tax compliance, bringing together results from a variety of research traditions. Rather than aiming to provide an exhaustive presentation of all research on social norms and compliance, we aim to highlight primary trends in past research, provide conceptual clarification, and highlight future research directions. Second, the paper will discuss avenues for employing knowledge about social norms in improving tax compliance. We review the social norms approach to changing individuals’ behaviour, including insights from relevant health and environmental campaigns, and discuss several options for designing future social norms campaigns for tax compliance, including potential caveats.

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