The National Commission on the Public Service(1) recently called attention to the difficulty the Federal government has had in attracting and retaining management talent at all levels. The Task Force on Recruitment and Retention(2) found that the most academically talented college seniors in liberal arts, business administration, public administration, and engineering and science ranked a career in the public service, both at the federal and local levels, less attractive than a career in academia and small and large business.
This research analyzed alumni questionnaires to answer three questions. First, were there any significant associations between particular groups of alumni and government employment? Second, were the odds of working in government for these groups of alumni different from the odds of working in government for comparable groups in the total employed labor pool? Third, were personal experiences and characteristics or exogenous factors such as salary differentials between the public and private sectors better predictors of sector of employment?
Prior research asked related questions. Blank(3) looked at choice of sector in the labor market from an economic point of view. While she found significant sectoral wage differences for workers categorized by sex, education, race or level of occupation, she also showed that nonwage factors had a measurable effect on sector of employment. She explained the preference of minorities, women and veterans for public employment by asserting that government was more effective in implementing affirmative action internally than it was in policing affirmative action in the private sector.
Vocational choice theories have focused on the psychological dynamics behind choice of occupation, the development of occupationally related decision-making skills, the impact of life stages on vocational maturity, and the correspondence between the work personality and the work setting in terms of tenure and satisfaction(4). However, little attention has been paid to how these factors influence a person at a particular life stage and with a particular set of occupational interests and skills to seek and accept employment in either the public or private sector.
Moreover, Osipow(5) noted that none of the major theories examined in any detail the role of race. Hackett, Lent and Greenhaus(6) agreed that vocational theorists have neglected issues of race in organizational settings. Both London and Greller(7) and Bowman and Tinsley(8) called for increased research on ethnic and cultural groups.
To isolate the role of personal characteristics and experiences on sector of employment requires that external factors be held as constant as possible. The individuals in this study all graduated from the same college, and 95% worked in the same city two years later. Statistics provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that from 1982 to 1988 government employment grew from 434,419 to 489,078 and private employment grew from 2,152,726 to 2,312,554. Both labor markets were expanding and the city possessed a wide mix of both private and public jobs. All graduates therefore enjoyed favorable economic conditions.
The Office of the Dean of Students at Baruch College of the City University of New York mailed questionnaires to all alumni who graduated two years earlier. The response rates were 51% (760 respondents out of 1485 graduates) for 1986 alumni, 46% (628 respondents out of 1366 graduates) for 1984 alumni and 43% (607 respondents out of 1408 graduates) for 1982 alumni. All responses were anonymous.
The questionnaire asked age, sex, race or ethnic group, marital status and religious preference. It asked pre-college background information such as parental income and borough of residence. It asked for college experience information such as major, grade point average, number and kind of remedial courses taken in reading and mathematics, evaluation of the faculty in terms of availability, sensitivity, course organization and presentation, evaluation of administrative services such as admissions, curricular guidance, career counseling and placement, and type of financial aid received, if any. …