Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Millennials and Public Service Motivation: Findings from a Survey of Master's Degree Students

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Millennials and Public Service Motivation: Findings from a Survey of Master's Degree Students

Article excerpt

Graduate schools in public administration and nonprofit management play an important role in training the future leaders of the public and nonprofit sectors. As most students seek Master's degrees when they are in their 20's and 30's, the population of students in graduate schools has changed over the last decade to include fewer members of "Generation X," born between 1965 and 1979, and more members of the "Millennial" generation, born in 1980 and later. If these generations are markedly different in their public service motivation, the differences would have implications both for how graduate programs teach students and for the future of the nonprofit and public sectors. This paper seeks the answer to the following question: What differences exist between Millennials and Generation X graduate students in public service motivation and its antecedents, prosocial behaviors, perceptions of the three sectors, and career plans?

The findings of this paper come from a 2012 survey of 194 first-semester students in six public service graduate schools in the United States. The survey asked students about their parents, childhood and college experiences, and past service work. It evaluated them on a number of personality traits and prosocial motivations, including a reduced version of Perry's Public Service Motivation scale (Perry, Brudney, Coursey, & Littlepage, 2008). It asked students about current involvement in prosocial activities outside of school, including volunteering, blood donation, and informal helping. It asked students their opinions of the for-profit, non-profit, and government sectors, and about their plans to work in each sector.

As the survey was distributed only to students in public service Master's degree programs, it is not possible to generalize its findings to the broader population of the United States, or even people working in public service professions. The findings are nonetheless important for three reasons. First, students in public service graduate programs will go on to leadership careers, making them unusually influential in the nonprofit and public sector. Second, this population is of particular interest to the readers of Public Administration Quarterly who teach students in public service Master's programs. Knowing the differences between Millennials and Generation X graduate students will help professors and staff in these programs better meet students' needs as Millennial students come to replace Generation X students. Finally, surveying graduate students at the beginning of their study provides data that contributes to an understanding of whether individuals with public service motivation are attracted to and select into service careers, or whether people learn public service motivation from exposure to these values during their education and employment.


Two strands of literature relate to the question of this study: the experiences and personality traits that lead to prosocial behavior generally, and the differences between the Millennial generation and older generations. This section briefly reviews the research literature on prosocial behavior and the research literature on generational differences, before focusing on the few studies that explicitly test generational differences in prosocial motivations and actions.

Prosocial Behavior and its Causes

The general literature on prosocial behavior is vast and multidisciplinary, and a full review is beyond the scope of this paper. Good reviews are available of the causes of volunteering (Einolf & Chambré, 2011; Musick & Wilson, 2007; Wilson, 2012), charitable giving (Bekkers & Wiepking, 2011), and prosocial behavior generally (Penner, Dovidio, Piliavin, & Schroeder, 2005). The literature on prosocial motivation and action through paid employment is more limited, and focuses on organizational citizenship behaviors (LePine, Erez, & Johnson, 2002; Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Paine, & Bachrach, 2000) and public service motivation (Perry & Hondeghem, 2008). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.