by UnHerd
Wednesday, 11
August 2021

The most vaccine-hesitant group of all? PhDs

A new study found that the most educated are the least likely to get jabbed
by UnHerd
The percentage of each education group that is somewhat vaccine hesitant. Source: Carnegie Mellon University

There has been much debate over how to get the unvaccinated to get their jabs — shame them, bribe them persuade them, or treat them as victims of mis- and disinformation campaigns — but who, exactly, are these people?

Most of the coverage would have you believe that the surge in cases is primarily down to less educated, ‘brainwashed’ Trump supporters who don’t want to take the vaccine. This may be partially true: the areas in which the delta variant is surging coincide with the sections of red America in which vaccination rates are lowest.

But according to a new paper by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, this does not paint the full picture. The researchers analysed more than 5 million survey responses by a range of different demographic details, and classed those people who would “probably” or “definitely” not choose to get vaccinated as “vaccine hesitant.”

In some respects the findings are as predicted — for example the paper finds that there is a strong correlation between counties with higher Trump support in the 2020 presidential election and higher hesitancy in the period January 2021 — May 2021. 

But more surprising is the breakdown in vaccine hesitancy by level of education. It finds that the association between hesitancy and education level follows a U-shaped curve with the highest hesitancy among those least and most educated. People with a master’s degree had the least hesitancy, and the highest hesitancy was among those holding a Ph.D. 

What’s more, the paper found that in the first five months of 2021, the largest decrease in hesitancy was among the least educated — those with a high school education or less. Meanwhile, hesitancy held constant in the most educated group; by May, those with Ph.Ds were the most hesitant group. 

So not only are the most educated people most sceptical of taking the Covid vaccine, they are also the least likely the change their minds about it… 

Join the discussion

  • Being as universities are nowadays educationally worthless, I wonder how significant this is. Whatever, it’s classic “everybody’s stupid except me”.

  • The piece is, obviously, specifically about vaccine hesitancy among people with PhDs.

    But it would be interesting to consider more broadly the typical characteristics (if indeed there are any typical characteristics) of people with PhDs in relation to other issues.

    For example: are PhDs more independent in their attitudes generally, or more sceptical (in the sense of requiring more evidence for a proposition before accepting it), or do they become more fixed in their views once formed, or do they regard themselves as somehow ‘above’ the concerns of the general population?

    And if any of the above might be true, would it be the result of obtaining a PhD, or would it be that people with those characteristics to start with have a greater tendency to be come PhDs?

    Answers on a postcard, please.

  • True in my experience too re Leave. As for vaccines: the sample may be statiistically weak and full of outliers. More generally, PhDs in the UK often keep quiet about their qualifications, due to resentment. Some are acutely aware of what we do NOT know. So, perhaps they are more risk averse?

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