Who becomes a member of Congress? Evidence from de-anonymized census data
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Citation (published version)James Feigenbaum, Andrew Hall, Jesse Yoder. 2019. "Who Becomes a Member of Congress? Evidence from De-Anonymized Census Data." NBER Working Paper No. w26156. https://doi.org/10.3386/w26156
We link future members of Congress to the de-anonymized 1940 census to offer a detailed analysis of how economically unrepresentative American politicians were in the 20th century, and why. Future members under the age of 18 in 1940 had parents who earned more than twice as much as the population average and who were more than 6 times as likely as the general population to be college graduates. However, compared to siblings who did not become politicians, future members of Congress between the ages of 18 and 40 in 1940 earned more and were better educated, indicating that socioeconomic background alone does not explain the differences between politicians and non-politicians. Examining a smaller sample of candidates that includes nonwinners, we find that the candidate pool is much higher-earning and more educated than the general population. At the same time, among the candidate pool, elections advantage candidates with higher earnings and education. We conclude that barriers to entry likely deter a more economically representative candidate pool, but that electoral advantages for more-educated individuals with more private-sector success also play an important role in shaping representation in Congress.