Do Educated Leaders Matter?


  •  Corresponding author: Timothy Besley, Department of Eonomics, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK. Email:

  • We are grateful to the referees, conference participants, and especially Angus Deaton and Steve Pischke for useful suggestions. Anne Brockmeyer provided helpful comments on an earlier draft of the article. We thank Florencia Abiuso for excellent research assistance. Besley thanks the Economic and Social Research Council and CIFAR for funding. 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 n. 203576. Reynal-Querol and Montalvo acknowledge the financial support of the grant SEJ2007-64340 from the Spanish Ministerio de Educación, the Barcelona GSE Research Network and the Government of Catalonia.


This article uses data on more than 1,000 political leaders between 1875 and 2004 to investigate whether having a more educated leader affects the rate of economic growth. We use an expanded set of random leadership transitions because of natural death or terminal illness to show, following an earlier paper by Jones and Olken (2005), that leaders matter for growth. We then provide evidence supporting the view that heterogeneity among leaders’ educational attainment is important with growth being higher by having leaders who are more highly educated.