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Katarina Nordblom, professor of economics, makes research on tax morale and on what makes us pay taxes.
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Examining what makes us pay taxes – Katarina Nordblom new professor of economics

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A feeling that you get something for your money and tax rules that are the same for everyone –two factors that increase the acceptance of paying taxes. “You are willing to contribute if you see that others also contribute” says Katarina Nordblom, newly appointed professor of economics, whose research among other things focus on tax morale.

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Gas station pumps
Taxes that have a clear purpose more often have a higher degree of acceptance, for example environmental taxes such as the carbon dioxide tax on petrol.

“I look at what makes people pay taxes and what is usually called tax morale – what is the internal motivation that determines if people pay or do not pay taxes. There is differences between both individuals and countries. Some research also shows that there are differences between different types of taxes.”

What is the status of the tax morale in Sweden?

“Paying taxes is to a large extent something we are obliged to do, and there is a high sense of duty. A lot of research also shows that you are willing to contribute if you see that others also contribute. If you experience that many people cheat, or more importantly, if you see that there are tax rules that benefit some, then the tax morale erodes.”

“It is also important for people to feel that they get something for their tax money. The taxes that have a clear purpose more often have a higher degree of acceptance, for example environmental taxes such as the carbon dioxide tax on petrol. Increases in income taxes generally have lower acceptance. In one of my research projects together with a group of lawyers, I am now looking at the sustainability goals to see what role taxes can play in achieving them.”

What do you hope your research will lead to?

“I hope that my research will influence decision-makers. I have for example just completed a research project in collaboration with the Swedish Tax Agency where we investigate how different letter formulations to those who are late with their residual tax affect the tendency to pay. We saw that with the right choice of words, many individuals may be persuaded to pay and avoid having their debt transferred to the Enforcement Authority, a lesson they take with them in the agency’s continued work. There is also talk of a major overhaul of the Swedish tax system and I hope that lessons learned from my research will find their way into some parts there as well.”

Photo of letter page.
Changing how the information on residual taxes was presented, made more people pay their debt to the Swedish Tax Agency

What got you interested in this research area?

“I have a general interest in society, and taxes are something that affects us all, so for me it is an important area. One thing that made me fascinated by economics from the beginning was that if you listen to the political debate, there are often two poles: more taxes or less taxes. I started thinking about how it is possible to reach such different conclusions, and when I had read one semester of economics – then I knew everything. When I read a little more, I realized that it was all much more complex and that I needed to continue. And that is still the case – I am constantly discovering things that I do not know and want to understand.”

What do you like best about your job?

“It’s good to be able to find out things you don’t understand. A lot of people think about things like this in everyday life, but I get paid to find out how it actually works. Also, a lot of research is done in cooperation with others, and discussing and thinking together with colleagues is very, very satisfying.”

More information

Nudges and Threats: Soft vs Hard Incentives for Tax Compliance
study on the result of dofferent letter formulations to people who are late with paying their residual taxes.