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Opportunism and Opportunity Cost as
Antecedents of Participatory Behavior
Junesoo Lee*1, Heung-Suk Choi2 and Seungjoo Han3
1Associate Professor, KDI School of Public Policy and Management, 263 Namsejong-ro, Sejong, Republic of Korea
2Professor, Korea University, 145 Anam-ro, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea
3Associate Professor, Myongji University, 34 Geobukgol-ro, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Submission: November 13, 2020;Published: November 30, 2020
*Corresponding author: Junesoo Lee, Associate Professor, KDI School of Public Policy and Management, 263 Namsejong-ro, Sejong, Republic of Korea
How to cite this article:Junesoo L, Heung S C, Seungjoo H. Opportunism and Opportunity Cost as Antecedents of Participatory Behavior. Ann Soc Sci Manage Stud. 2020; 6(1): 555679. DOI: 10.19080/ASM.2020.06.555679
Despite its positive impacts, public participation often begets a representativeness problem due to participants’ opportunism and opportunity cost. Using the survey on 2,000 citizens in South Korea, the research results show that: (1) citizens’ opportunism in terms of self-interest or free-riding may significantly influence their participatory behaviors and (2) citizens’ opportunity costs may act as a mediating factor, i.e., a higher opportunity cost lessens the impact of opportunism on participation. The findings imply that a desirably represented citizen participation can be supported by considering and mobilizing (not manipulating) citizens’ sense of opportunism and opportunity cost.
Citizens may participate in various public venues such as community affairs, market system, and policy process. When it comes to government affairs, citizens can be engaged in policy processes through indirect ways (e.g., voting, donation), collective participation (e.g., participatory budgeting), individual participation (e.g., survey, polls, petition), or conventional channels (e.g., hearing, meeting) . In other words, citizens join governments not only in collective action  but also in cooperation for policy decisions [3-6].
As a result of citizens’ active approach to public affairs, many public values are expected to be better achieved. First, in terms of transparency of policy making process, information on public policy issues are further opened [7-12] to help prevent corruption. Second, beyond a simple disclosure of policy information, citizens can have more access to policy-making processes [13-14]. Third, the enhanced openness and accessibility of government also leads to government’s responsiveness to citizens’ demands [2,15,16]. Fourth, public participation eventually helps enhance the legitimacy of policy-making, which is conducive to better policy compliance [17-19].
Motivations of public participation
Beyond the impacts of public participation, why do citizens decide to participate in public affairs in the first place? The motivations behind citizen participation have been studied from various perspectives. The first school of participation motives is concerned with rational choice model. It asserts that people choose to join in political participation by rationally calculating the costs and benefits of their participation [20-23]. However, such cost-benefit approaches have been criticized because of “paradox of participation” phenomena  where a rational chooser does not participate in political activities because of the many incentives for free-riding.
Another group of theories on participation motivation is about the (necessary) conditions for participation. People should be available in terms of time and money (i.e. opportunity cost) for them to spare sufficient time to participate . Further, people should be also accessible to public affairs by being a member of social networks through which they can easily participate [25-27]. Exploring more active factors behind participation, there are two types of arguments about the drivers of participation. First, as individual drivers of participation, people tend to participate because of their self-interest. Citizens participate in public matters
(1) to avoid sanctions, (2) to receive material extrinsic rewards
(e.g., money, social prestige) or intangible intrinsic rewards (e.g.,
self-satisfaction) [26,28], or (3) to pursue enjoyment of cognitive
efforts through participation .
Second, as social drivers of participation, people like to engage
in public affairs due to (1) political interests , (2) distrust in
government [30-31], (3) social identity (i.e., desire for inclusion,
and aversion to exclusion) , (4) social or group pressure
[33-36], (5) sense of contribution to social causes , and (6)
altruism . The last school of participation motive theories
focuses more on the conditions for “good participation.” To be
successful participants, people should have competence, efficacy,
and trust in government . They should also have social and
technical skills .
Revisiting the motivations of participation
In summary, there are similarities among the participation
motivations despite the different formulas and factors of each
model. First, people tend to consider and compare the net benefits
of participation and non- participation. Second, citizens often
hesitate to participate in public affairs because public participation
has the characteristics of public goods with externalities. In other
words, as the impacts of participatory efforts are shared by the
general public, the incentive of participation can be deficient.
Therefore, just like other public goods, citizen participation
can be over-demanded, under-supplied, and thereby begets a
From the perspective of public managers who engage citizens
in public affairs, this study examines who actually participate and
why they participate considering two drivers—opportunism and
opportunity cost—which may determine citizens’ participatory
behaviors. Simply put, opportunism, as a driver of participation,
is a “benefit-oriented” motivation. On the other hand, opportunity
cost, as a driver of non- participation, is a “cost-oriented”
motivation. By analyzing empirical data on people’s behavior,
this study explores how the two drivers influence participatory
behaviors independently and simultaneously.
As a dependent variable in the research model, three sub-types
of participation are considered: participation in community affairs,
corporate affairs, and government affairs. First, “participation in
community affairs” is often based on public service motivation
(PSM), which is “motives and action in the public domain that
are intended to do good for others and shape the well-being of
society” . The participation in community affairs also include
being responsible for and considering the impacts of behavior
on nature [40,41]. Having a responsible engagement for future
generation is also a part of citizenship for community . Second,
“participation in corporate affairs” is usually characterized as
responsible consumerism  or ethical consumerism to choose
ethical brands . Third, “participation in government affairs”
is acting as a proponent of legislative or administrative ideas
and putting voices into the policy process [45-48]. It also means
citizens’ engagement in co-production as information producers
or disseminators [49-52].
Opportunism and participation
People’s opportunism is a key independent variable and
consists of two sub-items: self-interest and free- riding. First,
people may decide to participate in public affairs based on their
self-interest expecting the private return of their participation
[26,28,53]. Second, as the concept of paradox of participation 
implies, people may hesitate to participate in public affairs when
they think that other people would participate on behalf of them
. The arguments on the association between opportunism and
participation are hypothesized as below.
i. Research Question 1: How does citizens’ opportunism
influence their participatory behavior?
Hypothesis 1-1. The degree of citizens’ opportunism in
terms of “self-interest” and “free-riding” would be significantly
associated with their willingness to participate in community,
corporations, and government.
Hypothesis 1-2. The degree of citizens’ opportunism in terms
of “self-interest” and “free-riding” would be differently associated
with their willingness to participate in community, corporations,
Opportunity cost and participation
As another independent variable, peoples’ opportunity cost
may also work on their participatory behavior. People’s availability
in terms of time and money influences their decision to participate
[19,28,55,56]. This time and money play a role not only as
actual costs, but also as a perceived cost of participation; thus, it
negatively influences participation decisions . Beyond just the
simple association between opportunity cost and participation,
this study also considers how opportunity costs interact with
opportunism via the following hypotheses.
ii. Research Question 2: How does citizens’ opportunity
costs mediate the opportunism’s influence on participatory
Hypothesis 2-1. Given the same degree of opportunism,
the degree of citizens’ opportunity cost would be negatively
associated with their willingness of participation in community,
corporations, and government.
Hypothesis 2-2. The influence of opportunity cost on citizens’
participatory behavior would vary according to the measures of
opportunity cost such as income level, education level, and social
The data on dependent and independent variables were
collected through national survey in South Korea between
July 26th and August 6th in 2019. The sampling frame was a
nationwide panel over 19 years old of age. The respondents were
contacted via mobile phones with a random sampling method.
The eventually collected sample size is 2,000.
Measurement and data analysis
Table 1 shows the three dependent variables—participation
in community affairs, corporate affairs, and government
affairs—measured by aggregating the individual respondents’
participatory behaviors. The two independent variables were
divided into several sub-variables. For instance, “opportunism”
was measured by two sub-variables—free-riding traits and selfinterest
traits. The “opportunity costs” were measured via three
different information sources—income level, education level, and
social class. In an attempt to efficiently test the opportunity cost
as a mediating variable between opportunism and participatory
behavior, the three opportunity cost variables were transformed
into dummy variables so that they can be a part of an interaction
term (i.e., opportunity cost dummy × opportunism) in the
regression models. The three variables of opportunity cost—
income, education, social level—signify demographic information
of respondents, and thus they played two roles in the analysis as
both independent and control variables.
Table 2 shows the descriptive statistics of the dependent and
independent variables—the correlations between the variables
were significant. Interestingly, however, the correlations between
opportunity cost and opportunism are very weak and almost
insignificant so they look independent of each other—at least
statistically. Table 3 shows the model structure and the results
of regression analysis. As for the first research question on the
association between opportunism and participatory behavior,
Hypothesis 1-1 seems to be supported because the statistics show
that the “the greater opportunism, the more participation.”
Every coefficient of opportunism (OM) has positive and
statistically significant values, and such positive effect is consistent
across all types of participation—community, corporates, and
government. Hypothesis 1-2 is also supported by the analysis result
because the “self-interest” is more associated with participation
(i.e., having larger coefficients) than “free-riding” is (regardless
of the types of participation). Still, an interesting point in table
3 is that free-riding is positively correlated with participation,
although free-riding has been expected, in many literature [24,54],
to decrease the willingness to participate. Therefore, the impact
of free-riding trait on participatory behavior may need further indepth
We can also find the answer to the second research question
on the mediating effect of opportunity cost between opportunism
and participation. As anticipated in Hypothesis 2-1, given the
same degree of opportunism, the statistics show that there is
less participation with greater opportunity cost. Such mediating
effects of opportunity cost appear only in “self-interest” (not “freeriding”)
as opportunism. For Hypothesis 2-2, the coefficients of
interaction terms are significant only under the condition of “selfinterest”
as opportunism and “income level” as opportunity cost.
In other words, the opportunity costs seem to be better defined by
income level than by education level or social level.
Figure 2 shows the interactive effects of opportunism and
opportunity cost on participatory behavior. As the degree of
opportunism increases, the likelihood of participation in public
affairs (i.e. community, corporations, and government) also rises.
When considering the mediating effect of opportunity cost, the
group with the higher opportunity cost in terms of income level
tends to have less impact of opportunism on participation. In other
words, the motivation behind participation (i.e. opportunism)
might be significantly influenced by the motivation behind nonparticipation
(i.e. opportunity cost) .
The core question that this study aimed to answer is “Who
actually participates in public affairs and why?” The results
answer the question: (1) Citizens’ opportunism in terms of
self-interest or free-riding may significantly influence their
participatory behaviors, (2) Citizens’ opportunity costs may act as
a mediating factor in the association between opportunism and
participation, i.e., a higher opportunity cost lessens the impact of
opportunism on participation. Based on these findings, the next
question of, “Who will participate more?” might be answered as
follows: “Those who are more opportunist with low opportunity
costs will be more likely to participate in public affairs.” But such
characteristics of those who are more likely to participate are
challengeable for their opportunist motives of participation and
their biased representativeness.
From the perspective of public managers who are responsible
to promote a broader (thereby less biased) basis of participation,
the findings of this study imply how to mobilize (not manipulate)
citizens’ sense of opportunism and opportunity cost. In detail, the
attempt to lower the perceived opportunity cost of participation
would be synonymous with emphasizing the value of participation
relative to other alternatives. It may help citizens to perceive the
individual and social efficacy of participation more clearly and
vividly. In contrast, the effort of reminding people of the individual
and social demerits of non- participation would be another way
of influencing people’s perception of opportunity cost. Still, such
measures of lower opportunity cost of participation may lead to
a higher sense of opportunism, which can again be problematic
for the biased representativeness of those with high opportunism.
Briefly, the efforts in promoting public participation often presents
public managers with a dilemma between a lack of participants
and ill-representative participants. With this in mind, future
research needs to be conducted on the corrective measures that
warrant legitimate representativeness among the participants.
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