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Do Democracies Select More Educated Leaders?


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.

Corresponding author
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 (
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 (
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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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