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Study finds public sector workers more pro-socially motivated than their private sector counterparts

Press release issued: 21 September 2011

New research has found public sector workers are typically more pro-socially motivated than their private sector counterparts. The University of Bristol study, published today [21 Sep], examined motivational indicators in workers from both sectors across 51 countries.

New research has found public sector workers are typically more pro-socially motivated than their private sector counterparts. The University of Bristol study, published today [21 Sep], examined motivational indicators in workers from both sectors across 51 countries.

But there are some nations where the reverse is true and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded study, led by academics in the University’s Centre for Market and Public Organisation, explored whether corruption can explain variation in motivation across countries.

Using World Values Survey (WVS) data from 59,604 people across 51 countries (representing a total population of 4.8 billion1) with a range of income levels, different political regimes and cultures, the researchers compared motivational characteristics between public and private, for-profit sector workers.

In addition to age, education, proportion female, the researchers examined motivational indicators, such as the person’s work motivation, their self-perception - based on what things are important to them in life, and their self-reported activity in pro-social organisations including charity and environmental work.

As well as differences in motivation, there is a near-universal tendency for public sector workers to be older, more likely to be female and to be better educated than private for-profit sector workers. People with a higher level of well-being are also more likely to work in the public sector.

One of the authors, Professor Sarah Smith, said: “Our findings suggest that public sector workers tend to be more intrinsically motivated across a wide range of different countries but this is not a universal characteristic.  Our research shows that there are certain features of the public sector, such as the level of corruption, that can make it more attractive to pro-socially motivated workers.”

Who works in the public sector? Evidence from the World Values Survey by Edd Cowley and Sarah Smith from the Centre for Market and Public Organisation and the Department of Economics. The work was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). 

 

Further information

1. Population figures based on World Bank population statistics for 2006 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL

2. ESRC

The UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2011/12 is £203 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at www.esrc.ac.uk.

CMPO

The Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO) is a leading research centre, combining expertise in economics, geography and law. Our objective is to study the intersection between the public and private sectors of the economy, and in particular to understand the right way to organise and deliver public services. The Centre aims to develop research, contribute to the public debate and inform policy-making. CMPO, now an ESRC Research Centre was established in 1998 with two large grants from The Leverhulme Trust. In 2004 we were awarded ESRC Research Centre status, and CMPO now combines core funding from both the ESRC and the Trust.