All the evidence suggests women are less likely than men to avoid tax – but why? Anna Solomon investigates
In 2017, Clara Volintiru of the Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies and John D’Attoma of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies published a paper that yielded a blunt conclusion: men are more likely than women to avoid tax.
Volintiru and D’Attoma conducted several experiments on men and women in the US, the UK, Sweden and Italy, discovering ‘a consistent, statistically significant difference in fiscal behaviour’, with men more likely to under-report their income.
In a separate study, Benno Torgler of Queensland University of Technology and Neven T Valev of Georgia State University drew the same conclusion. They used data on eight western European countries from the World Values Survey and the European Values Survey to reveal ‘significantly greater aversion to corruption and tax evasion among women’.
So, women do indeed appear to be the ‘fairer sex’. What isn’t clear is why. One theory is that women are less likely to have accrued the money, power, influence or resources that make it both possible and especially attractive to minimise one’s tax burden. Camilla Wallace, head of private clients at law firm Wedlake Bell, concurs with this sentiment: ‘[Women] might not be aware of the tax landscape, so end up paying more. Also, if they’re earning less, they can’t pay for the best advisers.’
If it were true that women pay tax because they are less equipped to avoid or mitigate it, however, it would follow that the fiscal gender gap would be smaller in countries with greater levels of legal, financial and social equality.
‘Where social, political and cultural gender equality is greater, we expected behavioral differences between men and women to be smaller,’ the academics wrote. ‘In contrast, our evidence reveals that women are significantly more compliant than men in all countries.’
‘In that sense,’ says Volintiru, ‘I think there is a solid argument for behavioural differences between men and women.’
What are these behavioural differences, exactly? They could be cognitive, argues Torgler, who conducted neuroscientific experiments in the wake of his study to try to explain the results, including allowing men and women to cheat in order to measure their stress levels. ‘It seems that, when there are high stakes, females are more cooperative,’ he says.
Or perhaps it is evolutionary. When humans were hunter-gatherers, women’s role was to gather – a low-risk, low-reward activity compared to the high-risk, high-reward of hunting. Also, humans are altricial, meaning they are born in an undeveloped state requiring intensive parental (usually maternal) care for a long time. This could be the basis of a feminine instinct for nurture.
Wallace believes the idea of women being ‘caring’ could explain the fact that tax advice is a comparatively ‘female’ profession. (The proportion of women among the tax advisers featured in the Spear’s 500 is much higher than among wealth managers, for example.) The job requires a lot of emotional intelligence, which is more commonly found in women, says Wallace: ‘Because we’re dealing with people’s personal and family circumstances, it’s extremely sensitive. So you’re looking for individuals who combine intellect with empathy.’
Even within the tax industry, women are more likely to become private client advisers while men dominate corporate tax – where there are fewer soft skills involved and more money to be held on to. ‘There’s this stigma about advising Amazon and Google on how to mitigate their UK tax,’ says Wallace. ‘I don’t think that necessarily feeds into your stereotypical female adviser.’
Image: Georgie Stewart