Cats and Dogs, Donkeys and Elephants

DESCRIPTIONPhoto: Justin Wolfers The author’s cat, Ivan, reading up on Maximum Likelihood Estimation in Stata.

BBC News reports that British cat owners are better educated than dog owners:

A poll of 2,524 households found that 47.2% of those with a cat had at least one person educated to degree level, compared with 38.4% of homes with dogs.

The study said longer hours, possibly associated with better qualified jobs, may make owning a dog impractical.

Now I have two cats, but have never thought of them as an educational status symbol. It turns out, they aren’t-at least in the U.S.

I dug up a February 2008 Gallup survey, which asked roughly 2,000 American respondents about whether they own a cat, a dog, or both. Pet ownership in the U.S. is extremely common, with nearly three-fifths of respondents owning a cat (14 percent), a dog (28 percent) or both (15 percent).

But unlike Britain, there’s no educational gradient here. In the U.S., 31.5 percent of cat owners have college degrees, which is statistically insignificantly larger than the 30.1 percent of dog owners who hold diplomas. (These numbers are lower than the British numbers, partly because I’m referring to the qualifications of the respondent, not the maximum qualification in the household.) There are no real income differences to speak of, as both cat and dog owners are each as likely as the other to be in either the top or bottom income quartile.

There is, however, a big difference in ideology. Apparently dogs and Republicans go together. Thirty-three percent of dog owners identify as Republican, whereas only 28 percent of cat owners lean to the right. This gap reflects a smaller share of dog owners who are independents, as cat and dog owners are roughly each as likely as the other to identify as Democrats.

And if you want to learn more about the economics of pets, try this paper, which suggests they may be a substitute for babies, but a complement for older children. Or for the psychology aficionados, try this link, which suggests dog owners are more extroverted, agreeable and conscientious, compared with cat lovers, who are neurotic, but more open.



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  1. Janet V says:

    So what you’re saying is that in Britain, cats make you smart. In the US, cats make you smarter.

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  2. Tom from Wisconsin says:

    What an inane article. I’m sure there are far more interesting differences and similarities between dog and cat fanciers than this piece suggests.

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  3. Andrew says:

    The “big difference” of dog owners being more Republican was a mere 5% (33% vs 28% of cat owners) Doesn’t this all seem to say a whole lot of nothing, Justin?

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  4. Dave Brooks says:

    Gerbil owners, on the other hand, have rarely made it out of middle school.

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  5. BSK says:

    My guess is that the difference in political ideologies between cat and dog owners is largely a practical reason. In many large cities (which generally lean Democrat), it is hard or impossible to own a dog, because of space issues, both in the size of apartments and green space for the dogs to use. Dogs need far more space than cats. On the other hand, in more suburban or rural areas (which generally lean Republican), there is ample space. I’m sure there are other factors as well, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was part of the explanation of this otherwise useless and meaningless non-statistic.

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  6. Andrew D. Smith says:

    I would guess that city dwellers — who tend to be Democrats — also tend to own cats because they have less interior space and no yards.

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  7. Andy says:

    As you noted, the UK poll was asking about the education of the highest-educated member of the family whereas the US one was the education of the respondent. Possibly there is no difference between the US and the UK, and rather what the UK survey demonstrates is a bias towards larger families owning cats and smaller families owning dogs?

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  8. Trillian says:

    Smart people choose pets where you don’t need to pick up warm poo every morning.

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