How do Denison Students View Working in the Public Sector?

By Will Duquette

It is no secret that many Denison alumni have high-paying jobs in the private sector. Of course, some students choose a public sector job, which typically commands a smaller salary. Given the frequent and massive pay disparity between the two and the polarization that plagues American democracy, I was curious if Denison students viewed working in the public sector positively or negatively. Although the respondents were not asked about whether they personally would work in the public sector, they were asked what they would think of a friend doing so, which we believe will be a good measure of their views on the matter.

The majority of students view working in the public sector positively

It came as slightly a surprise to me that so many students view working in the public sector as fulfilling. In fact, only ~18% of students viewed working in the public sector as either unfulfilling or very unfulfilling. This is in contrast to just under 50 percent of the students surveyed believing that working in the public sector is either fulfilling or very fulfilling. This, at least on the surface, seems to suggest that students have a positive view of the public sector and deem it fulfilling.

Does it change depending on your political beliefs? Not really. The distribution is almost identical for Strong Democrats, Democrats, Independent but Lean Democrat, Independent, and Republican. This means that public sector work is also viewed positively among those political belief structures. There are only 4 Strong Republicans within the survey, which is not nearly enough to accurately represent the distribution of Strong Republicans’ views on this topic. Interestingly Other and Independent are the only groups that appear not to view public sector work positively. However, they are by no means negative towards public sector work; they have slightly more people fall in the indifferent category.

The distribution of views among political groups is almost consistent with previous results. In the past, public service has been viewed positively by almost all groups. In fact, in 2017, Republicans (of all kinds) viewed public service far more positively than Democrats. However, in 2018, after (and during) Donald Trump’s “Drain the Swamp” campaign, there was a noticeable shift in the views of public service on campus, with “Democrats [being] the most dewy-eyed about serving the public, while Republicans’ sense of fulfillment had waned.” Although the sample size of Republicans is smaller in this survey than in the past, it appears like that shift has reversed slightly, with some more Republicans having a positive view of public service than an indifferent one.

Perhaps your opinions of those who hold public office might affect your view on public sector work. That does not seem to be the case with the data we are working with. The distribution of those who view Joe Biden positively and those who view him negatively are almost identical. On the surface, there does not appear to be a difference in views on public sector work between those who view the president negatively.

Interestingly, when this question is broken down by the respondents’ economic class, there is a slight difference in the extremes. Students in the lower-middle class and students in the lower class have the least positive views of public sector work. This might be because both of these groups have seen the extremes of economic life and, as a result, might be focused on a higher paycheck to reach a more financially comfortable outcome. It appears that the more comfortable you are financially, the more likely you are to support working in the public sector.

Dension students come from various backgrounds in all senses, leading them to have different views of the world. Most students view working in the public sector positively, but the support tapers off slightly among students in the lower economic classes. It is not a secret that the public sector typically pays significantly less than the private sector. If money is a method to escape your financial situation, then the public sector might not be an option, leading to a more negative view of the sector as a whole.

Will Duquette is going to miss having this much freedom in a few months when he starts a job in consulting.

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