Economics Thesis Spotlight: Hannah Quinlan ’19

The senior Business Fellow's research investigates whether education or career experience plays a role in the legislative success of members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Name: Hannah Quinlan '19

Major: Economics

Minor: Accounting

Faculty mentor: Vitaliy Strohush, assistant professor of economics

Title of research: The Relationship Between Education, Experience, and Political Efficiency


The amount of enacted legislation and sponsored legislation during a congressperson’s career are measurements often associated with political efficiency in the U.S. House of Representatives. The purpose of this paper is to test whether there is a relationship between education, experience, and political efficiency within the House of Representatives from 1973-2018.

Pre-congressional careers in private practice increased a representative’s amount of enacted legislation by 1.35 bills, state legislature experience increased the number of pieces of enacted legislation by 1.50 bills, and military experience increased it by 1.29 bills, presenting a positive correlation with political efficiency like initially predicted. The results also show that representatives with graduate education actually enacted 1.34 fewer pieces of legislation than those without a graduate degree, and a law degree is insignificant.

Sponsored legislation showed similar results as military experience, private practice experience, and state legislature experience increased a representative’s amount of sponsored legislation by 25.36, 15.36, and 15.21 bills, respectively. Graduate education decreased the number of sponsored legislation by 1.34 bills and law education was still insignificant. This research suggests that a representative’s educational background is less important than experience, and pre-congressional experience, such as private practice, state legislature or military careers are more strongly related to political efficiency.

In other words:

Considering the shift in the educational and professional backgrounds of the most recent House, it’s important to determine whether or not these changes will impact political efficiency. I’m looking at whether a U.S. representative’s education or career experience plays a part in their legislative success. For instance, if a representative has a law degree or was in the military, are they more likely to sponsor or enact bills?

Explanation of study/potential impact of findings:

My results showed that graduate education actually has a negative effect on political efficiency, but career experience like being in private practice, the state legislature, or the military increase their productiveness in office. These findings should signal to voters that higher education doesn’t necessarily translate to political efficiency and pre-congressional careers may be a better indicator for future performance in the House.

Why did you pick this topic? How did you get started?

Ever since I was little, politics has been at the center of my family dinner conversations. Being politically conscious and up-to-date with the news has always been an important part of my day. Then one day Dr. Strohush approached me about getting involved with this research, and I pretty much said yes before he could finish. I conducted my research on the House of Representatives and he did the same with the Senate. We are now in the process of pulling both pieces together to analyze Congress as a whole, and I’m excited to see our end result and share it on a larger scale in the future.

How has your mentor impacted you/your research process?

From two economics courses to the Fed Challenge to my current research, Dr. Strohush has been a consistent part of my Elon experience. Aside from giving me the confidence to take on such a daunting project, he has constantly supported and encouraged me to pursue large, scary goals that I never would’ve considered before. Dr. Strohush has played a pivotal role in my transformation from an anxious underclassman with little direction to a confident and capable professional. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor, whether that be in my academic or professional endeavors, and I’m looking forward to working with him in coming years.

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