Working for a Good Cause

Date01 March 2014
Published date01 March 2014
and the
Robert Dur is professor of economics
at Erasmus University Rotterdam and a
research fellow at the Tinbergen Institute,
CESifo Munich, and IZA Bonn. He has held
visiting positions at Bocconi University, the
University of Munich, and the University
of Vienna. His research interests include
personnel economics, organizational eco-
nomics, public economics, and behavioral
Robin Zoutenbier is a PhD student in
the Department of Economics at Erasmus
University Rotterdam and the Tinbergen
Institute. He is writing a dissertation on
work motivations and incentives in the
public sector.
144 Public Administration Review • March | April 2014
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 74, Iss. 2, pp. 144–155. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12183.
Rosemary O’Leary, Editor
Robert Dur
Robin Zoutenbier
Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands
A rich literature in public administration has shown that
public sector employees have stronger altruistic motiva-
tions than private sector employees. Recent economic
theories stress the importance of mission preferences and
predict that altruistic people sort into the public sec-
tor when they subscribe to its mission.  is article uses
data from a representative survey of more than 30,000
employees from 50 countries to test this prediction.  e
authors f‌i nd strong evidence of a mutually reinforcing
role of altruism and mission alignment in sorting into the
public sector, particularly among highly educated workers
and among workers in less-developed countries.
Many jobs in the public sector involve tasks
that help people in need or contribute to
society at large. Such jobs presumably are
attractive to people with strong altruistic motivations.
A rich literature in public administration has provided
empirical evidence in line with this idea. Using a
variety of data and methods, it has been shown that
public sector employees are more inclined to help
others or serve the public interest compared to private
sector employees (see Perry, Hondeghem, and Wise
2010 for a recent overview of the literature).
Inspired by these f‌i ndings, a theoretical literature has
recently emerged in economics studying the sorting of
dif‌f erently motivated people into the public sector and
the consequences of this for optimal pay policies and
organizational design (see Francois and Vlassopoulos
2008 for a survey). A prominent study in this f‌i eld
is that by Besley and Ghatak (2005). In their model,
workers are heterogeneous in “mission preferences”;
that is, workers dif‌f er in what they consider to be a
good cause. Besley and Ghatak show that there is a
premium on matching of mission preferences, imply-
ing that workers will sort into organizations with
which they share a mission.
Concurrently and independently, a new strand in
the public administration literature has emerged
that, like Besley and Ghatak (2005), stresses “mis-
sion matching” or “value congruence.” Inspired by
the organizational psychology literature on person–
organization f‌i t (Kristof 1996), several recent studies
have shown that public sector employees who have a
strong willingness to do something useful to society
and, in addition, f‌i nd the work that they do valuable
to society report higher job satisfaction and a stronger
willingness to exert high ef‌f ort (see Bright 2008;
Leisink and Steijn 2009; Steijn 2008; Taylor 2008;
Wright and Pandey 2008).
is article contributes to these literatures in two
ways. First, building on Besley and Ghatak (2005),
we develop a simple model of sorting into the public
sector in an economy populated by agents who dif‌f er
in both altruism and mission preferences. We examine
how an individual’s altruism and the alignment of
his or her mission preferences with the public sector’s
mission af‌f ect the likelihood of being employed in the
public sector. Our model predicts that altruism and
mission alignment are mutually reinforcing. When a
worker’s mission preferences are well in line with the
mission of the public sector, the likelihood of working
in the public sector increases in the worker’s altruism.
e reverse holds when a worker’s mission prefer-
ences conf‌l ict with the mission of the public sector.
Altruism does not af‌f ect the sorting of people who feel
that the public sector neither serves nor damages the
public interest. Likewise, mission alignment increases
the likelihood of working in the public sector for
altruistic people but decreases it for spiteful people.
Our second contribution is to test these predictions
using survey data covering employees in both the
public sector and the private sector in a broad range
of countries around the world.  e existing studies
that we mentioned earlier on person–organization f‌i t
have used survey data on public sector employees only
and have been restricted to well-developed countries,
in particular the United States and Western European
countries. We use data from the World Values Survey
conducted between 2005 and 2008. Our sample con-
tains representative data on more than 30,000 work-
ers from 50 countries, ranging from wealthy countries
Working for a Good Cause

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