American Political Science Review

Research Article

Do Democracies Select More Educated Leaders?


a1 London School of Economics and Political Science

a2 Universitat Pompeu Fabra


This paper uses a unique data set on over 1,400 world leaders between 1848 and 2004 to investigate differences in educational qualifications between leaders who are selected in democracies and autocracies. After including country and year fixed effects, we find that democracies are around 20% more likely to select highly educated leaders. This finding is robust to a wide range of specifications, choices of subsamples, controls, and ways of measuring education and democracy.


c1 Timothy Besley is Kuwait Professor of Economics and Political Science, London School of Economics and Political Science; also Program Member, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR); Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, United Kingdom (

c2 Marta Reynal-Querol is ICREA Research Professor of Economics, Universitat Pompeu Fabra; also, Research Fellow, Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) and Research Affiliate CESifo; C/ Ramon Trias Fargas 25-27, Barcelona 08005, Spain (


We are grateful to seminar participants at Oxford and CIFAR, UPF, LSE-UCL, the Paris School of Economics, and the Toulouse School of Economics for helpful feedback. We are also very grateful to Florencia Abiuso for excellent research assistance and to Anne Brockmeyer and Rohini Pande for helpful comments. We thank Arnold Ludwig and Gregory Gunthner for generously agreeing to make the data in Ludwig (2002) available to us. Besley is grateful for funding from the ESRC and CIFAR. Reynal-Querol is grateful for funding from the European Research Council under the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement 203576 and acknowledges the financial support of Grant SEJ2007-64340 from the Spanish Ministerio de Educación. Reynal-Querol also acknowledges the support of the Barcelona GSE Research Network and the Government of Catalonia.