Underestimating tax evasion among self-employed women

julie bjørkheim
Julie Brun Bjørkheim was appointed a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Business and Management Science in July 2023 and is also associated with the tax research center NoCeT at NHH.
By Sigrid Folkestad

8 March 2024 06:00

Underestimating tax evasion among self-employed women

Self-employed women underreport their income to the tax authorities more than men do; a new study shows. `We should perhaps reconsider assumed gender differences in this field´, says NHH researcher Julie Brun Bjørkheim.

There is not much difference between women and, men when it comes to tax evasion. If anything, women do it more than men. This is surprising given what we know about risk willingness.

White-collar crimes

`Our study found the opposite of what we thought before we started - that self-employed women tend to underreport their income more than self-employed men do.´

Hege Landsvik, Department of Strategy and Management. Photo: Sigrid Folkestad

The Action Problem

Hege Landsvik had not planned to pursue a doctorate when she was a master's student at NHH. Now, she is tackling the action problem in sustainable consumer behavior.

This does not mean that women in general commit more economic crimes, so-called white-collar crimes, but it suggests that we should not underestimate that women also evade taxes,´ she elaborates.

Julie Brun Bjørkheim was appointed a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Business and Management Science in July 2023 and is also associated with the tax research center NoCeT at NHH.

In May last year, she defended her PhD thesis "Beyond Lost Revenue: The Economic Consequences of Tax Non-Compliance".

Challenging traditional views

In the new study "Gender Differences in Tax Evasion: Evidence from Norwegian Administrative Data", she and SSB researcher Odd E. Nygård investigated gender and tax evasion.

The study is yet unpublished, but on March 14, Bjørkheim will present the research at a gender equality seminar at NHH.

julie b bjørkheim
Julie Brun Bjørkheim, Asstistant Professor, Department of Business and Management Science.

`We estimate that self-employed women underreport more of their household income than self-employed men. This applies even when taking into account the sector one works in, education, and income level. And when looking at the same households over time.´

The figures showing tax evasion surprised Bjørkheim. It is unexpected because of what we know about gender and willingness to take risks.

Do Women Get Away More Easily?

While other studies suggest that men are more lenient towards corruption and tax evasion than women, the new study does not support this. Men are also generally much more willing to take risks, which involves tax evasion.

The researchers cannot yet give a completely unambiguous answer to what lies behind the gender differences.

`But one possible explanation could be the likelihood of punishment. We show that self-employed women are not punished in the same way as self-employed men.´

Anita Meidell, Associate Professor at the Department of Accounting, Auditing and Law at NHH and an expert in management accounting and control.

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Women have both a lower probability of paying penalty tax and the level of a potential penalty tax constitutes a smaller portion of their business income, compared with men, elaborates the NHH researcher.

`Then it is actually quite rational if women evade more," Bjørkheim explains.

Tax Authorities

`This may reflect that women are treated differently in tax enforcement. Perhaps the reason for this is that it is assumed that it is men who cheat the most on taxes, so they are checked more often. Or perhaps women cheat on taxes in a more cunning way that is harder to detect. Such tendencies can influence how tax authorities choose whom to control.´

`What do these findings mean for the authorities, as you see it? ´

`Understanding gender-specific evasion behavior enables tax authorities to tailor their enforcement strategies more effectively, which can lead to improved compliance.´

`What implications do these results have beyond tax enforcement?´

`I find this to be an interesting finding. If female entrepreneurs evade income more than men, we should understand why. And it is probably not the case that only men evade taxes or engage in other economic crimes.´

Ever since Bjørkheim was an economics student at the University of Bergen, she has been fascinated by questions concerning economic inequality and different perspectives on taxation.

Trine Rogg Korsvik

Exploring Gender Perspectives in Economic Research

What does a gender perspective entail in research, and how do NHH researchers use this in their projects? The gender equality seminar on March 14th will provide answers!

`As a researcher, I am interested in the empirical perspectives and want to explore how the tax system affects both businesses and the general population.´