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.



Isn't this really just urbanization/population density?

More urban = more likely to have cat/less likely to have dog , and more urban = more likely to have higher educatin.


I think it comes down to how you were brought up. Nearly every pet owner I know (not all, but definitely most) take on the pet they were exposed to most as a child. If your grandparents had dog/cats, then your parents will most likely prefer whichever they were brought up with and so on down the generations. Occassionally two worlds collide and the pets combine. And then there's snake owners ...!!


More women own cats, and more women are democrats. Thus, the political difference may be largely an artifact of gender differences in political preference between the daddy and mommy parties.

Shiloh May

Smart, highly educated people, unfortunately, are much more likely to over analyze meaningless data like this and even worse, if they think their status can be bolstered by it in any way, propose a maze of requirements, rules and regulations to "fix" these non-problems, causing great hassles and expense to others who are minding their own business and working for a living.


Wow! I really enjoyed your article! You should post more aritcles woth different types of numbers in them. The articles like that are the most gripping, and the ones that make me eager for future articles like that yet to come!


I disagree with the article in that the type of pet is a factor in political affiliation. It depends more on environment than the pets you have. Location, for one, is a big one: in a big city, people will tend to have more cats because of the small living space. That doesn't inform us of whether they are a democrat or republican. Pet and political party shouldn't have a correlation, and if it does, it is sure to be unreliable or misread.