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Working paper

Motivations for Public Service in Corrupt States: Evidence from Post-Soviet Russia

Throughout much of the world, corruption in the civil service undermines state capacity, impedes economic development, and saps citizens’ morale. But while its pernicious effects are widely recognized, the roots of corruption remain poorly understood. Whereas most studies on corruption’s origins focus on the incentives bureaucrats face once in office, this study contributes to a line of recently emerging research that considers the role of self-selection of citizens with a propensity for corruption into bureaucracies where corruption is known to be widespread. Drawing on a survey and experimental games conducted with students at an elite university in Moscow, Russia, we compare the attitudinal, behavioral, and demographic traits of students seeking public sector employment to the traits of their peers seeking jobs in the private sector. Contrary to studies conducted in other high-corruption contexts, such as India, we find surprising evidence that students who prefer a public sector career display less willingness to cheat or bribe in experimental games as well as higher levels of altruism. One interpretation of these findings is that corruption in Russia results from the transformation of bureaucrats’ behavior and attitudes after entering the civil service, rather than through a process of corrupt self-selection.