Who Wants to Work for the Government?



In an era when everyone wants to be a millionaire, governments struggle to attract and retain highly qualified employees, making it more important than ever to understand what attracts people to the public service. Using contingency table analysis and logistic regression on the 1989 and 1998 General Social Surveys, we explore how individuals' demographic characteristics and the importance they place on various job qualities influence their preference for and employment in the public sector. Job security may still be the strongest attraction of government jobs, but high income and the opportunity to be useful to society also attract some Americans to the public service. Minorities, veterans, Democrats, and older Americans preferred public-sector jobs more than whites, nonveterans, Republicans, and younger Americans, who were otherwise similar. Women and college graduates were more likely than comparable men and less-educated respondents to have government jobs, but no more likely to prefer them. Overall, desire for government jobs declined markedly between 1989 and 1998.