Numerous studies have shown that public service motivation (PSM) is positively associated with public sector employment. However, the question of whether PSM influences or is influenced by employment decisions remains open, since previous studies have mostly relied on cross-sectional samples with experienced employees. This article investigates the relationship between PSM and employment sector in pre-entry and post-entry settings using data from a panel of Danish physiotherapy students surveyed before and after their first job in the public or private sector. The analyses show that PSM is neither relevant for attraction to the public sector nor actual sector of employment. This indicates that within a group of professionals, PSM is probably more associated with the nature of the public service work than the sector itself. Conversely, PSM is found to be severely hampered after job entry, which is interpreted as a shock effect. This effect is also moderated by sector, that is, public organizational membership prevents PSM from declining as much as in the private sector. This suggests that if PSM is associated with sector employment, then it is primarily a consequence of the sector affiliation, but in a more complex way than previously assumed.
Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2013, Vol 23, Issue 4, p. 899-926