Do Public Sector Employees Volunteer More Than Private Sector Employees?

I have a confession to make right off the bat — I wrote the headline for this post specifically to counter Betteridge’s law of headlines. If you’re familiar with it, then you’ve already realized that the answer to the question posed is yes.

From the research:

The models showed that government employees volunteered more in general, and participated in a wider range of organizations. However, when the data is examined more closely, the models suggested that these initial big differences are driven primarily by volunteering in two specific types of organizations: educational institutions and political groups. As expected, having children in the household predicted involvement in educational institutions. Other factors such as education, income, health, and formal and informal connectedness explained the higher participation in other venues, but even controlling for all these factors, government employees were still significantly more likely to volunteer in educational and political institutions.

I find it interesting that even when controlling for things that we might think have be confounding, the effect still holds. More than that, though, is the sample. The researchers mention that people older than 60 were oversampled, but that they also too steps to account for this. However, it’s noteworthy that the years from which these data are pulled are quite “old.” In fact, they pulled data from 2008 and even in 2002! Of course, given limited access to data, I can understand this, but when taking this into account, I’m inclined to think that if the researchers were to duplicate the study with more recent data, they’d find an even bigger effect. Consider this:

According to an AP-GfK poll of 1,044 adults, three out of ten (29 percent) Americans under the age of 30 agreed that citizens have a “very important obligation” to volunteer, a significant increase from the 19 percent who said the same thing in a 1984 survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago.

There’s also the idea that millennials prefer a career that “matters” over a career solely motivated by money.


Let’s assume for a second that public sector employees and private sector employees have the same motivations and that they’re equally likely to volunteer. This isn’t true given the research I’ve included above, but stay with me for a second. Let’s also assume that education, socioeconomic status, and all the other possible confounding variables are equal. Meaning, let’s assume that there’s no difference between a public sector employee and a private sector employee except for the number of hours they work each week. It’s no secret that working in some (many?) private sector jobs, 40-hour workweeks (or less) are the exception rather than the norm. So I wonder, maybe public sector employees volunteering more than their counterparts is a question of availability. If pubic sector employees work only 40 hours in a week, while their private sector counterparts are working 50- or 55-hour workweeks, it stands to reason that public sector employees may be more likely to volunteer simply because they have more time to volunteer. Food for thought.

ResearchBlogging.orgErtas, N. (2014). Public Service Motivation Theory and Voluntary Organizations: Do Government Employees Volunteer More? Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 43 (2), 254-271 DOI: 10.1177/0899764012459254


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