Ian Ayres grew up in Kansas City and graduated from the Pembroke-Country Day School in 1977. He played varsity basketball, ran cross country, and served as executive editor of the Hilltop, the high school newspaper. Ayres wrote an op-ed piece his senior year called "Black Like Me" (named for the 1961 book of the same name), a controversial piece detailing the consequences of his checking the "African- American" box for race on his PSAT, which led to consideration for academic awards. Ian Ayres graduated Summa Cum Laude in 1981 from Yale University with a dual degree in Russian Studies and Economics. He then received his J.D. at Yale Law School in 1986, where he was an editor of the Yale Law Journal. He received his Ph.D. in Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1988. Throughout his career, Ayres has been committed to social justice and has been involved in public interest law. In a post-conviction petition, Ayres was successful in vacating the death sentence for his client.