Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Major Professor

David J. Houston

Committee Members

Anthony Nownes, Patricia Freeland, Catherine Luther


Why do people choose to work for government vs. private business? Addressing this question is necessary to address emerging concerns among public management scholars and practitioners alike about attracting, selecting, and retaining the most qualified people for government employment. The extant literature related to this topic is mostly concerned with attitudes of those who are already employed by government. Less attention is given to those who want to work for government (regardless of current employment circumstances). Furthermore, the literature, with few exceptions, only considers this topic within the context of single-nation studies. Relatively few studies examine the topic in a cross-national setting. To address these concerns, this study examines preferences for public employment across 31 national samples from the 2005 International Social Survey Programme’s Work Orientation III survey. The dependent variable is a measure of whether an individual wants to work for government or private business.

My findings indicate that employment preferences are a function of both individual attitudes and national context. Several individual correlates are associated with a preference for public employment, including a mixture of both intrinsic and extrinsic work motives, preferences for work-life balance, and several socio-demographic characteristics. At the national-level, the analysis reveals a relationship between a preference for government employment and national economic health and public institutional quality. The multilevel analysis conducted in this study contributes significant findings to the existing public personnel management literature.

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