Career Patterns in Administrations (2020)
in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
Administrative careers are careers of civil servants, who are the individuals working in public administration institutions at different levels (central, state or regional, local) of government. Characteristics of a country's civil service system determine what administrative career patterns typically look like. In the literature, two ideal-types of civil service systems are distinguished: the career-based system and the position-based system. In countries with a position-based civil service system, administrative careers usually are more diverse than in countries with a career-based civil service system. In most countries, however, intersectoral career mobility of civil servants is rather low. In democratic systems, recruitment and promotion in the civil service is formally based on merit and (with decreasing significance) seniority, while in practice political criteria and representativeness can be important selection criteria, especially for promotion to senior-level positions. As a consequence of their influential role in policy-making in many countries, research on careers in public administrations is mainly focusing on top-level positions: by analyzing the career background of top officials, public administration scholarship aims to understand the determinants of career success in public administrations as well as processes of administrative elite (re-)production and politicization. Findings from empirical studies suggest that political criteria do not crowd out meritocratic criteria in recruitment in most established democracies but that politicization can have severe negative impacts on administrative outcomes in young democracies and developing countries. Comparative empirical studies on administrative careers based on common datasets are largely lacking so far. More systematic comparative studies (across countries and over time) on administrative careers would not only make it possible to understand how larger systemic developments (e.g., administrative reform movements, democratic backsliding) affect mechanisms of recruitment and promotion in the civil service, but also help to better understand the inner mechanisms in bureaucratic organizations (e.g., by identifying organizational patterns of inequality).