Early life and education
Paul Davis Ryan Jr. was born in Janesville, Wisconsin, the youngest of four children of Elizabeth "Betty" Ann (née Hutter), who later became an interior designer, and Paul Davis Ryan, a lawyer. He is a fifth-generation Wisconsinite. His father was of Irish ancestry and his mother of German and English descent. One of Ryan's paternal ancestors settled in Wisconsin prior to the Civil War. His great-grandfather, Patrick William Ryan (1858–1917), founded an earthmoving company in 1884, which later became P. W. Ryan and Sons and is now known as Ryan Incorporated Central. Ryan's grandfather, Stanley M. Ryan (1898–1957), was appointed United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin. In 2018, while filming a segment for the PBS series Finding Your Roots, Ryan learned that he is 3 percent Ashkenazi Jewish.
Ryan attended St. Mary's Catholic School in Janesville, where he played on the seventh-grade basketball team, then attended Joseph A. Craig High School, where he was elected president of his junior class, and thus became prom king. As class president Ryan was a representative of the student body on the school board. Following his second year, Ryan took a job working the grill at McDonald's. He was on his high school's ski, track, and varsity soccer teams and played basketball in a Catholic recreational league. He participated in several academic and social clubs including the Model United Nations. Ryan and his family often went on hiking and skiing trips to the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
Although Ryan's father was not a lifelong heavy drinker, staying sober for nearly twenty years after his first stint in rehabilitation, he had become an alcoholic by the time Ryan was a teenager. Ryan later commented that his relationship with his father, whom he revered as a young child, had grown distant due to his drinking, stating that "[alcohol] made him more distant, irritable and stressed ... whiskey had washed away some of the best parts of the man I knew." When he was 16, Ryan found his 55-year-old father lying dead in bed of a heart attack, something Ryan later partially attributed to heavy alcohol consumption. Following the death of his father, Ryan's grandmother moved in with the family. As she had Alzheimer's, Ryan helped care for her while his mother commuted to college in Madison, Wisconsin. From the time of his father's death until his 18th birthday, Ryan received Social Security survivors benefits, which were saved for his college education. His mother later married widower Bruce Douglas (1933–2002).
Ryan has a bachelor's degree in economics and political science from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he became interested in the writings of Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman. He often visited the office of libertarian professor Richard Hart to discuss the theories of these economists and of Ayn Rand. Hart introduced Ryan to National Review, and with Hart's recommendation Ryan began an internship in the D.C. office of Wisconsin U.S. Senator Bob Kasten where he worked with Kasten's foreign affairs adviser.
He attended the
Washington Semester program at American University. Ryan worked summers as a salesman for Oscar Mayer and once got to drive the Wienermobile. Ryan was a member of the College Republicans, and volunteered for the congressional campaign of John Boehner. He was a member of the Delta Tau Delta social fraternity.