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.


Janet V

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

Tom from Wisconsin

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


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?

Dave Brooks

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


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.

Andrew D. Smith

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.


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?


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


I concur with Bill Cosby's thoughts on dogs and cats. If you haven't heard his bit on that subject (and even if you have), I highly recommend it.


I clicked on the link in hopes of finding out about the educational achievements of elephant owners. I'm somewhat disappointed.

I think BSK and Andrew have an excellent point about the demographics involved.

Trillian- that's probably why cats choose humans. Say what you like about intelligence, but at least dog owners are sure who the pet is.


#4...right on! =) Thanks for the laugh.

I'll contribute my statistics - I have a cat, a husband, and a 3-year-old. I am currently in school for my MS in Finance, and I'm the highest educated in my home. We also have a hamster (unfortunately given to us as a "gift" for our son). My husband wants a dog, but I don't, so we aren't getting a dog. My political views are extremely farther to the left than his.

I'd say my husband and I (and our son, the hamster owner) each fit the descriptions!


I think it has more to do with a psychological state of the owner. Dog owners are more likely to be control freaks, whereas cat owner are not (have you ever tried to control a cat). Dogs pretty much do their masters bidding.

Linh D.

i didn't know there were so many social and political reasonings in whether you're having a dog or cat as pets. But i guess it all comes down to the personality of the owner and his preference.


Trillian: "Smart people choose pets where you don't need to pick up warm poo every morning."

LOL, +1

I like both dogs and cats, but I'm single and work full time, and cats are much more convenient.

If I lived in an less safe neighborhood, I'd be more inclined to get a dog for security. Perhaps that's another factor, people with more education tend to live in safer neighborhoods, and don't have as much need for security. (Though, I admit I could be completely wrong about that!)

Eric M. Jones

I, for one, welcome out Feline Overlords.


I'm surprised that so many homes have both a dog and a cat.

I've noticed (in Australian suburbia) that poor households are likely to have a dog.


This is dumb. Cat owners are more likely to live in urban environments where there's less space, dog owners are more likely to live in suburban and rural areas. As such, cat owners will likely be more liberal and better educated (as cities are), and dog owners are more likely to be conservative and have less education.

Robyn G

I must admit this is real funny and so true. As to the status of my cats and inherited dogs. Becky (the older female cat) has stopped hissing at Yin Yin (the younger female dog who so wants to make friends). Yin Yin talks to both cats when she sees them as if to say- why can't we be friends? Beckey craves tlc from us humans- she was the social one of the litter. Olove (the younger cat) still hangs around watching Yin Yin through the makeshift see-through separation between them. And then there is Tootsie, the wise one female dog who watches the circus act (aloof i.e., above it all). She is the most independent of them all and has an air of wisdom about her. There is reason to think that she might be gay. Can't say how and don't know why.


I suspect there are a number of differences between UK and US cat/dog ownership patterns.

For example 99% of UK cats are free to roam at night, where I believe many (most?) US cats are exclusively house cats...

There's also a current trend to use agressive dogs as weapons and status symbols amongst urban youths in UK (though whether that skews the stats, I don't know!).

Robyn G

Dear Griff;

Now that is an interesting question. My cats have the rome/roam of most of the house. My dogs are limited to the living room.

I just cannot let the cats completely free to roam- And frankly when it comes to my daughter- I cannot seem to forget the story of Theseus.