Education levels among U.S. Elected Officials

by Saide Ashaboglu

It is always fascinating pulling a specific group out of the general population and seeing the terms in which they differ from the overall make-up of the country. After this initial idea was born, we thought looking at the education levels of people who represent us in Federal and State government[1] would be an intriguing avenue to take.

At first glance, the main question we asked was, how do elected officials differ from the general population? From the graph below, we can see that the main difference is how much more highly educated office holders are. The general population mostly has “High School or Less” or “Some college/Associates Degree” and the trend-line slopes down as we look at sequentially higher education levels. Overall, only a third of the U.S. population have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher.


U.S. elected officials differ from the general population on two main points:  almost all of them have some form of college degree, and almost half have acquired some type of Professional Degree (i.e. J.D., M.D. etc.). Your first response might be, “So, you’re saying that politicians have a higher education level, go figure…” and that would be a fair response! One would hope that someone who is representing them in Government would have achieved higher education levels. However, at the same time many politicians put on a persona that they are “regular folks” which — when it comes to education level — couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Our second thought was, why not look at the percentage of people who have attended an Ivy League school for a Bachelor’s Degree? Based on the above data, a quarter of the general population has acquired a Bachelor’s Degree and 99% of U.S. Politicians have a Bachelor’s Degree. When focusing solely on Ivy Leagues for undergraduate degrees, the difference between the two audiences is stark. Overall, according to U.S. News[1], less than 1%[2] of the general U.S. population has acquired a Bachelor’s Degree from an Ivy League school. On the other side of the spectrum, 11% of U.S. office holders possesses a Bachelor’s from an Ivy League institution.

Ed_2Ivy League Schools are known for their prestige not only among Americans, but across the globe. When compared to the general population, the data points to just how exceptional office holders are compared to the regular population of the United States. It is not shocking to see that politicians have higher education rates than the total population in the United States–the degrees they have obtained are a supportive material they use for their candidacy.

Next post, we aim to discuss the differences between Democrats and Republicans in terms of education levels attained as well as Ivy League attendance.

[1] We built a sample file that contained all current Representatives, Senators and Governors in the U.S as of May 2015. (a total of 593 cases).

[1] This data for the general population is not current, however, with the acceptance rates among the Ivy Leagues dropping every year this data point would not have significantly changed over 4 years.