Diploma Democracy: The Rise of Political Meritocracy

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Melville Room (University of Glasgow)
Anchrit Wille , Institute of Public Administration, Leiden University
Mark Bovens , Utrecht University
In most Western democracies, almost all incumbents in political office and members of parliament are highly educated. This paper documents to what extent political executives and legislatives in European democracies are dominated by university graduates. With the use of primary and secondary data, we identify to what extent educational differences in political elites can be observed across European countries. We  show how this varies systematically between three European regions: the Northwest, the South and the East of Europe. Next, we want to explain why the higher educated are so dominant. We show how the connection between social milieu and the opportunities for a political career has weakened in the 20th century and how a university education became almost a condition sine qua non for recruitment for political office. Various supply and demand factors, such as educational inflation, the significance of political skills, cooptation mechanisms and the role of networks in the selection process have led to extraordinary large numbers of highly educated citizens among the Western European political elites. In these advanced democracies, citizens with primary and secondary level diplomas still account for at least two-third of the adult population. Nevertheless, they are virtually absent in the parliaments and cabinets.