How many members of Congress went to college? And what did they study?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Capitol Hill in July.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Capitol Hill in July. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)


Since launching this column in June, we’ve somehow attracted what must be the smartest, most hilarious readers on the planet. You’ve sent in hundreds of questions, and almost every one of them provokes a thought, a chortle or … further exploration in the latest Data Dive!

How many members of the U.S. Congress have ever had a college level course in economics?

Dick Dahn, Wilmington, Del.

We won’t jump to conclusions, but it seems possible that our friend Dick may be trying to cast aspersions on the economic expertise of our honorable representatives in Washington.

Alas, we can’t be sure how many of the people serving under the Capitol Dome (where there are typically 535 lawmakers plus six nonvoting members) ever took a college class in economics. However, we can tell you that 38 senators and House members report having studied some form of economics, typically as an undergraduate major, according to fact sheets collected by CQ. That makes econ the third-most popular field of study reported by folks in Congress, behind political science (135) and history (58).

Our figures double- or triple-count some politicians who report multiple degrees. But they are still likely undercounts overall, as not every legislator listed a field of study in the CQ questionnaire. Meanwhile, evaluating the data required some judgment calls. For example, in our assessment of econ majors, we did not count eight members (all male, all Republican) who studied agricultural economics. We also left out Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who studied home economics.

With prominent graduates including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), economics stands out as one of the most bipartisan fields of study, along with journalism and education. Business and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) tend to be more popular among Republicans, while humanities and politics-related majors tend to be more common among Democrats. Out of 10 legislators who studied accounting, for example, nine were Republicans. Of the 10 who studied English, eight were Democrats.

Not every lawmaker went to college. Twenty-two members of the House (and zero Senators) have only a high school diploma, according to the Government Accountability Office. That’s 6 percent of lawmakers — a significant reduction from the 1961-1962 legislative session, when nearly a quarter of lawmakers had only high school diplomas.

At the other end of the educational spectrum, about a third of House members and half of senators hold law degrees, GAO found. Our analysis shows more than 60 percent of those with a juris doctor degree are Democrats, while those with a master of business administration are more likely to be Republican. Similarly, more than two-thirds of the legislators with doctorates are Democrats, but an even bigger majority of those in Congress who have medical degrees are Republicans.

I read that 1 in 6 zoomers are opting out of both work and college. Is that true?

— Lori Montgomery, newspaper editor, Washington, D.C.

Technically, yes. But that statistic is not as remarkable as it might appear.

The number comes from data collected in March 2021, and it counts zoomers who are unemployed — a technical classification that means they’re actively looking for work. It strikes us as a little unfair to say that someone’s doing nothing if they’re sending out résumés and — perhaps through no fault of their own — striking out.

We’d put the real number not at 1 in 6, or 16.7 percent, but at 11.9 percent. That’s based on more recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that goes through August of this year and does not include unemployed zoomers.

Allow us to note a few more caveats.

First, this lounging-around-not-working-or-studying phenomenon is not specific to Gen Z. We have data going back to 1984, when the youngest boomers were about 20. Back then, an average of 12.5 percent of the youth were doing nothing. And the number has stayed relatively steady for Gen X, millennials and zoomers.

Second, young people aren’t exactly the laziest cohort. Indeed, folks age 18 through 24 are among the least likely to be unoccupied: The share of people who aren’t studying or working rises steadily with age and positively skyrockets when people hit their late 50s.

Of course, there are lots of good reasons grown people might not work. In addition to retirement, the nonworkers include disabled people and parents who choose to stay home with their children.

Countries that dish out the most sanctions

After President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, Russia rapidly became the most sanctioned country on Earth, surpassing Iran, Syria and North Korea, according to the sanctions-data monks at

But did you know that Russia is also the most sanctioning country on Earth? The rogue Eurasian empire sanctions 13,444 individuals, organizations and firms, topping even the 11,652 restrictions laid out by the sprawling American sanctions machine.

But that doesn’t mean Russian sanctions are ripping a hole in global trade. As CEO and co-founder Peter Piatetsky explains, sanctions are weird. Merely announcing one carries no weight. It has to be enforced.

“You can’t just impose sanctions. You have to have an infrastructure in place” staffed by “analysts who understand finance, lawyers, researchers who can speak multiple languages,” said Piatetsky, who used to work in the sanctions arm of the U.S. Treasury Department.

Effective sanctions regimes also make it easy for companies to get involved. Corporate chiefs need access to lists of sanctioned entities, and they need clear guidance to distinguish the sanctioned “Green Shipping Ltd.” and “Zhao Wei” from all the other Green Shipping Ltds. and Zhao Weis in this world. Russia struggles with that.

“They have kind of this bureaucratic history of putting people on lists,” Piatetsky said. “But what they don’t have is a corresponding history of open and transparent rule of law where putting people on a list is accompanied by due process. And so the result is that Russia is basically like: ‘You’re an opposition member? You’re on the list. You’re a journalist? You’re on the list.’ ”

When Piatetsky and the Castellum team ranked every nation’s sanctions regime, Russia got a failing grade, ranking below even post-Soviet peers such as Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan.

The United States, by contrast, has the best sanctions program in the world, according to Castellum’s analysis of 20 facets of data quality and data availability. The American bureaucracy sanctions 5,769 individuals, 4,757 entities (usually corporations or organizations), 515 vessels and 286 aircraft. And that’s just the sanctions from Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. Other agencies, such as the State Department, also may restrict business with some people and groups.

China has the worst program of any they evaluated: The Chinese government publishes no list, Piatetsky said, and sanctions are announced only in brief news releases that are then routinely scrubbed from the internet. But there may be reasons for that.

“China is creating a vague sanctions environment on purpose because it gives them all the leverage,” Piatetsky said. When the rules are vague, a country can pick and choose who to punish, since so many businesses could theoretically be violating them.

Only 43 countries even impose sanctions on their own, according to, though others are party to sanctions lists maintained by the United Nations, European Union or powerful political entities such as the United States.

The best question data can’t answer

What percentage of Americans have never seen a cow in the flesh? This question has been causing disputes among my group of friends for years now.

— Daniel Pereira, Alexandria, Va.

How can we answer that?! Our friends at the National Agricultural Statistics Service say they don’t track lifetime cow sightings. However, there is a rich tradition of mapping which parts of America have more cattle than people. (We’re broadening out from “cow” to “cattle,” because we’re not confident most Americans can distinguish a cow from a heifer, steer or bull.)

By our calculation, about 94 percent of Americans live in places where humans outnumber cattle. And a whopping 70 percent live in areas where people outnumber cattle at least 10 to 1.

So, it seems likely that at least a few of those folks have gone their entire lives without seeing cattle, right? Especially if they’re among the 3 percent of Americans age 2 or younger.

Howdy! The Department of Data has an endless appetite for fun facts! What ratios do you think would produce the best “two Americas” maps in the vein of “where cattle outnumber people?” Places where Methodists outnumber bartenders? Where there are more sheep than eligible bachelors? Where truck drivers outnumber delivery drivers? Let us know!

To get every question, answer and factoid in your inbox as soon as we publish, sign up here. If your question inspires a column, we’ll send an official Department of Data button and ID card. This week’s buttons go to Dick and Daniel, as well as Lori, who, when she’s not submitting questions, runs The Post’s business and tech teams — and edits this column.

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