This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

A Look at Public Service Motivation Using NLSY97 Data: Examining Prosocial Attitudes and Altruistic Behavior in Young Adults with Professional Public Service Experience




Dias, Ashley

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Political Science


This study examines whether young adults with work experience in public service organizations—defined as organizations within sectors which have an other-centeredness orientation, such as public, nonprofit, or military organizations—express higher levels of PSM than their peers who have held experience solely in the private, for-profit sector. This study moves a step beyond the popular public-private distinction by considering differences along a broader spectrum of public service professionals—namely individuals with nonprofit and military experience. Using data from a subgroup (n=1,848) of the Bureau of Labor Statistics National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY97), five models of PSM—a composite score, and four dimensions: (1) attraction to policy making (APM), (2) commitment to the public interest and civic duty (CPI), (3) compassion (COM), and (4) self-sacrifice (SS)—are analyzed along with individuals’ public service experience and other covariates. Findings show that PSM is positively associated with public service experience, religiosity, and education in all five models. Gender was a significant factor in two models: women were more likely to exhibit higher COM, while men were more likely to exhibit greater APM. Two covariates—relationship to household guardian and job satisfaction—were only statically significant in two models apiece, thus offering less explanatory power. Respondents’ relationship to household guardians while in high school (1997) was used as a precursor to parent socialization and found to be positive and significant only in the composite model and APM—indicating that young adults living with biological parents during high school were more likely to exhibit higher PSM overall and APM. Job satisfaction was positive and strongly significant in CPI, but was negative and only marginally significant in relation to SS. Income was positive and marginally significant with PSM overall, but it was strongly significant in one model: SS. An intra-group analysis of public service organizations further revealed that differences do exist in the levels of PSM demonstrated by individuals in different types of public service organizations: individuals with nonprofit experience were more likely to have higher PSM scores across all dimensions (except APM) than those with public sector experience, while individuals with military experience were most likely to exhibit the highest PSM scores (across all dimensions except COM) when compared with individuals in other public service organizations. These findings indicate that military service is the highest form of public service.