4 ways higher ed ‘tames’ authoritarian attitudes

Liberal arts majors are less inclined toward authoritarianism than graduates in business-related fields and STEM disciplines
By: | September 23, 2020
(GettyImages/Tony Quinn / EyeEm)(GettyImages/Tony Quinn / EyeEm)

A more educated nation is more likely to become or remain a democracy as college graduates are less likely than others to support authoritarian attitudes, according to a new report.

These findings come at a time when the COVID pandemic and associated economic crisis have emboldened authoritarian governments and tendencies across the globe, say the authors of the report, “The Role of Education in Taming Authoritarian Attitudes,” by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

“In times of persistent change, especially economic threat, the pull toward authoritarianism—which is under the surface in any society—becomes stronger,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, lead author of the report and the Center’s director. “All of us have the propensity to seek the protection of group unity when faced with threats, but true authoritarians perceive diversity and nonconformity as threats and are willing to act on their biases.”

U.S. residents ranked 16th least likely to support authoritarianism, on par with countries such as Chile and Uruguay, the report found.


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Residents of Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, and Ghana were least authoritarian, while India, Kyrgyzstan, South Africa, and Lebanon were the most.

The report also found that liberal arts majors are even less inclined toward authoritarianism than are graduates in business-related fields and STEM disciplines.

Here are four reasons why, according to the report, higher levels of education reduce authoritarian attitudes in a population:

  • Higher education gives people a greater sense of security, which breeds interpersonal trust.
  • People with postsecondary education are more economically secure.
  • People with postsecondary education are more likely to be politically active, which in the United States is associated with a lower inclination toward authoritarian attitudes.
  • Postsecondary education tends to expose people to secular values and cultures, leading them to be less.

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