Theory and Decision

, Volume 76, Issue 2, pp 241–263

Motivation and mission in the public sector: evidence from the World Values Survey


DOI: 10.1007/s11238-013-9371-6

Cite this article as:
Cowley, E. & Smith, S. Theory Decis (2014) 76: 241. doi:10.1007/s11238-013-9371-6


It is well-recognised that workers may have intrinsic—as well as extrinsic—motivations. Previous studies have identified that public sector workers typically have a higher level of intrinsic motivation, compared to workers in the private sector. This paper compares (measures of) intrinsic motivation among 30,000+ workers in the two sectors across 51 countries using data from the World Values Survey. We find that public sector workers exhibit higher intrinsic motivation in many countries, but that this is not a universal relationship. One possibility is that public sector mission may influence whether or not motivated workers choose to work in the sector. In support of this, we show that the level of (public) corruption—which plausibly affects mission—can explain some of the variation across countries in the proportion of motivated workers in the sector.


Intrinsic motivation Public sector Corruption Worker selection 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Market and Public OrganisationUniversity of BristolBristolUK
  2. 2.Department of Economics and CMPOUniversity of BristolBristolUK

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