Education and Libertarian Tendencies: An International Pattern
By Bryan Caplan
In the United States, the well-educated are more socially liberal and economically conservative. In absolute terms, they’re statist, but they’re nevertheless relatively libertarian. (See my notes for an intro, and Althaus for broader discussion).
Question: How does this pattern hold up internationally? Today I stumbled on interesting evidence from David Weakliem (2002. “The Effects of Education on Political Opinions.” International Journal of Public Opinion Research). Punchline:
If academics around the world lean left, why on earth would education work this way? Peer effects are the obvious answer: Students pay a lot more attention to their fellow students than they do to the faculty. The longer you stay in school, the more time you spend around socially liberal, economically conservative peers – and the more you conform your views to theirs.
Why would social liberalism and economic conservatism appeal to the well-educated in the first place? My preferred answer is that (a) educated people are smarter, (b) smart people are somewhat more likely to notice the wonders of social liberalism and economic conservatism. But I’m open to other stories.
Before libertarians start celebrating education, however, they should ponder a serious unintended consequence. If well-educated people push each other in a libertarian direction, less-educated people presumably push each other in an authoritarian direction. As a result, randomly assigning one individual to either pool predictably changes his convictions. But moving everyone to the same pool wouldn’t predictably change the average convictions of the pool.