Dishonesty and Selection into Public Service

62 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2013

See all articles by Rema Hanna

Rema Hanna

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Shing-Yi B. Wang

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School

Date Written: November 2013


In this paper, we demonstrate that university students who cheat on a simple task in a laboratory setting are more likely to state a preference for entering public service. Importantly, we also show that cheating on this task is predictive of corrupt behavior by real government workers, implying that this measure captures a meaningful propensity towards corruption. Students who demonstrate lower levels of prosocial preferences in the laboratory games are also more likely to prefer to enter the government, while outcomes on explicit, two-player games to measure cheating and attitudinal measures of corruption do not systematically predict job preferences. We find that a screening process that chooses the highest ability applicants would not alter the average propensity for corruption among the applicant pool. Our findings imply that differential selection into government may contribute, in part, to corruption. They also emphasize that screening characteristics other than ability may be useful in reducing corruption, but caution that more explicit measures may offer little predictive power.

Suggested Citation

Hanna, Rema and Wang, Shing-Yi B., Dishonesty and Selection into Public Service (November 2013). NBER Working Paper No. w19649. Available at SSRN:

Rema Hanna (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Shing-Yi B. Wang

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

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