A total of 1.6 billion people worldwide - nearly a quarter of the global population - are forced to pay bribes to gain access to everyday public services, according to a new book by academics at the Universities of Strathclyde and Birmingham.
The bribes are paid for healthcare and education, to obtain permits or after being stopped by police.
The evidence on grassroots corruption comes from surveys interviewing more than 250,000 people in 119 countries in Africa, Asia, the European Union, former Communist European nations, Latin America and the Anglo-American world. The surveys identify important differences in the extent of bribery between countries, between public services and between individuals.
The book has been written by Professor Richard Rose, of Strathclyde, and Dr Caryn Peiffer, of Birmingham. Their research is funded by a grant from the UK Economic & Social Research Council.
Professor Rose said: "'Within every continent, there are major differences in the percentage of people annually paying bribes. In Africa, the range is between 63% in Sierra Leone and 4% in Botswana; in the European Union, which has the goal of upholding the rule of law, there were 29% paying a bribe in Lithuania and fewer than 1% reporting bribing a British public official."
From a global perspective, Europe has exceptionally low rates of bribery, with only 4% on average making such payments. By contrast, the average is 22% in Latin America and 29% in the 30 African countries surveyed.
In each country, those paying a bribe are usually in a minority of the population. One reason is that most people do not have regular contact with every public service and, in the case of the police and courts, do not wish to do so. However, after controlling for the effect of low contact with police and courts, the percentage paying bribes for their services is higher.
Professor Rose said: "The European contribution to global corruption is in the bribes that multi-national corporations pay to political elites to obtain 'big bucks' contracts for such things as building dams or supplying military aircraft.
"While most people receive the health care to which they are entitled, because the number using health services is so large an estimated 10% of the global population pays a bribe for health care each year.
"Some public officials like to blame their citizens for being ready and willing to pay bribes, as part of a so-called 'moral economy' of corruption, in which everybody sees services as corrupt and therefore takes payment of a bribe as a part of everyday life.
"However, survey data shows this is not the case. The great majority of people in every country think that bribery is wrong. They pay bribes because the alternative is doing without health care or a better education for their children."
The use of public services varies throughout life. Parents of school-age children are most likely to be in contact with education officials, while older people, especially widows, are most likely to need health care and young men are most likely to have contact with the police.
Professor Rose said:" The spread of public services across the life cycle means that at some point in their lives, everybody is at risk of being affected by bribery.
"Our evidence shows that most public officials are not out to make money by taking bribes, but to provide services such as teaching small children to read or looking after people in hospital. It should be made harder for the 'bad apples' to get a slice of their income from bribes and those who want to provide services properly should be encouraged."
Six principles for reducing bribery are set out in the conclusion of Professor Rose and Dr Peiffer's book. Computerisation relieves people from face-to-face contact with public officials, as does reducing regulations where they are over-supplied.
Vulnerability to bribery could also be reduced by allocating services according to objective criteria, increasing the supply of scarce services and giving more people the choice between public, not-for-profit and market institutions for the prevision of services. Encouraging and rewarding the service ethic of public officials is also important.
The book, Paying Bribes For Public Services: A Global Guide To Grass Roots Corruption, is published on 20 February by Palgrave Macmillan (ISBN: 9781137509666).
More details on the book can be seen at http://www.