Research findings have been contradictory with respect to the determinants of why people choose a public sector job. In this article we use an internationally comparative design with data from 26 countries to explain public sector employment preference. The study shows that on the individual level, public service motivation and extrinsic motivation are both important drivers for this preference. Intrinsic motivation, in turn, is negatively related to people’s inclination to work for the public sector. Moreover, having a lower income and lower education is associated with a greater preference for public sector employment. This suggests that working for the public sector is seen as a good and safe career option. Our results furthermore show that variation in this preference can only partly be explained by country differences. Nevertheless, in countries with a career- rather than position-based system of public employment, people are more likely to prefer public employment. Points for practitioners: Attracting the best and brightest to work for the public sector requires an insight into why people prefer public over private sector employment. This article looks at what makes people prefer public sector employment in 26 countries. Findings reveal that public service motivation (helping other people, being useful to society) and extrinsic motives (job security, a high income, opportunities for advancement) play an important role in this preference. Still, there are considerable differences between countries. In countries with a career-based system of public employment, working in the public sector is seen as more attractive.

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International Review of Administrative Sciences: an international journal of comparative public administration
Erasmus University Rotterdam

Van de Walle, S., Steijn, B., & Jilke, S. (2015). Extrinsic motivation, PSM and labour market characteristics: a multilevel model of public sector employment preference in 26 countries. International Review of Administrative Sciences: an international journal of comparative public administration, 81(4), 833–855. doi:10.1177/0020852314563899