Born in Swansea, he was raised in Bridgend in a Welsh-speaking family. He was a pupil at Brynteg Comprehensive School in Bridgend, and then studied at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, where he joined the Labour Party during the 1984–5 Miners' Strike.
Carwyn Jones graduated from Aberystwyth University with an LLB (Bachelor of Laws) degree in 1988 and went on to the Inns of Court School of Law in London to train as a barrister. He was called to the Bar at Gray's Inn in 1989 and subsequently spent a further year in Cardiff in pupillage followed by ten years in practice at Gower Chambers, Swansea – specialising in Family, Criminal and Personal Injury law. He left the Swansea legal practice to become a tutor at Cardiff University for two years on the Bar Vocational Course. Jones has warned students studying for a law degree at Aberystwyth "Don’t assume that it’s a passport to a job. Ten times more lawyers graduate than can be found jobs."
Jones said in a BBC interview that he subsequently considered trying to become an MP, but in 1999, "had a chance" to stand for the Bridgend constituency in first elections for the Welsh Assembly, a seat he has held ever since.
Jones was a County Borough Councillor for Bridgend for five years, where he eventually chaired the Labour group.
Jones became a Member of the National Assembly of Wales for Bridgend in 1999. Jones was appointed Deputy Secretary in the National Assembly for Wales in March 2000. In July 2000, he was appointed to the Cabinet as Secretary for Agriculture and Rural Development in the Welsh Government, before the title was changed to Minister in October 2000. His responsibilities in this role included the environment, countryside issues, town and country planning, sustainable development, agriculture and rural development. In June 2002, his brief was expanded when he was appointed Minister for Open Government in addition to his other duties. During this time, he was responsible for the Welsh response to the 2001 Foot and Mouth disease outbreak.
After the 2007 election, he was appointed Minister for Education, Culture and the Welsh Language, responsible for the Department for Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills and the Culture, Welsh Language and Sport portfolios. After his party entered into coalition with Plaid Cymru, Jones was reappointed as Counsel General for Wales and Leader of the House.
Following the announcement of Welsh Labour Leader and First Minister Rhodri Morgan in September 2009 that he would be resigning both posts in December 2009, Jones entered the subsequent election to become his successor, where his opponents were Edwina Hart and Huw Lewis. On 1 December 2009, Jones was elected the new Leader with over 50% of the vote.
After winning the leadership election in 2009, Carwyn Jones was confirmed as the third First Minister of Wales on 9 December 2009. Since the defeat of the Labour Party in the 2010 United Kingdom general election, and the resignation of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, Jones has become the most senior Labour elected representative and government minister in the United Kingdom. He was appointed as a Privy Counsellor on 9 June 2010. Following the 2011 elections to the Welsh Assembly, Labour increased their number of seats to just one under the amount needed for a majority. Jones opted to form a minority government as opposed to continuing the coalition, allowing Labour to govern alone.
Following the UK Coalition Government's austerity programme Some members of the UK cabinet sought to criticise Jones. On 8 September 2012 in defending the UK government spending cuts, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg accused Carwyn Jones of blaming London. Clegg said: "(Jones) is very good at blaming London for everything and terrifically stirring in his speeches about how more needs to be done to help the Welsh economy and yet he does exactly the reverse." Mr Clegg further claimed the Coalition Government was "doing all the heavy lifting, not the Welsh Government".
A spokesman for Carwyn Jones, responded: "We’ve again witnessed another graceless visit to Wales by Nick Clegg. People would be right to ask themselves – why does he bother coming to Wales, if all he wants to do is hurl insults about issues that he’s clearly very poorly briefed on? The fact is, the Welsh Government is utterly focused on making up for the failure of the UK Government to stimulate adequate and sustainable growth to enable Welsh companies to survive and expand during these extremely difficult times. Business leaders right across Wales are telling us they need much more support from the UK Government. So they’ll be scratching their heads at the incoherence of the Deputy Prime Minister’s message and the paucity of ideas emanating from the UK Government. Wales deserves much better than this."
On 28 February 2012 Jones told the Welsh Assembly "We would like to see many routes emerging from Cardiff Airport, but the airport must get its act together... Last week, I went to the airport and the main entrance was shut. People could not go in through the main entrance; they had to go through the side entrance. It is important that the airport puts itself in a position where it is attractive to new airlines, and, unfortunately, that is not the case at present." . His criticism led to accusations that he was "talking down" Cardiff Airport whilst aviation industry professionals commented he was out of his depth in this area.
However Carwyn Jones returned to this theme on 7 March 2012 saying "With the condition of the airport at the moment I would not want to bring people in through Cardiff Airport because of the impression it would give of Wales...I have to say the time has come now for the owners of the airport to decide to run the airport properly or sell it." Byron Davies AM, Shadow Minister for Transport, said: "It is a bit rich for the First Minister to publicly attack and run down Cardiff Airport, when he has failed to seize opportunities, which would massively increase the range of routes available from Cardiff, introduce direct routes to North America, opening our economy to trade and business with one of the world’s biggest economies". LibDem AM Eluned Parrot said: “The First Minister needs to stop talking our capital city's airport down and instead he should be doing all he can to encourage visitors to Cardiff Airport. His comments are hardly going to encourage tourism and business to Wales."
On 20 March 2012 Carwyn Jones, undaunted, again attacked Cardiff Airport saying "business people" had complained to him "week after week, for many months about the airport." He asserted he had put their points to the owners of the airport but "they have been met with a shrug of the shoulders. That is just not good enough. I know of situations, and have seen them myself, where people have been locked in the baggage hall and where the front door was not open and people had to go in through a side door—I had to do that the last time I used the airport." On 29 May 2012 it was announced Carwyn Jones would personally chair a "Task Force" on Cardiff Airport with the aim of "maximising its economic impact, commercially and for Wales". On 27 June 2012 the Task Force, comprising tourist chiefs, local government spokesmen and trade unionists, met for the first time. No airlines were invited to attend. A bid to obtain the full minutes of the meeting under the Freedom of Information Act was refused by the Information Commissioner.
In 2013 Jones came out against Scottish independence in the September 2014 referendum.
Following the National Assembly for Wales election, 2016, the Labour Party was two seats short of an overall majority in the Assembly, and Jones began negotiations with opposition parties to keep his party in power. However, in a vote on 11 May 2016, Jones tied with Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood in the vote to elect a First Minister. Under the Government of Wales Act 2006, if a First Minister is not elected within 28 days of the Assembly elections, those elections would need to be repeated. Following negotiations with the Plaid Cymru leader, a second vote on 18 May saw an unopposed Jones re-elected as first minister, enabling him to begin the process of forming a minority government. He was sworn in as first minister on 19 May, after which he said that he was "delighted to introduce the team who will be taking Wales forward over the next five years". Among his appointments was former Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams, who became Wales's Education Secretary.
He is married to Lisa. The couple have two children, Seren and Ruairi Wyn. Jones enjoys sport, following both codes of rugby in Bridgend. He also enjoys walking and cycling.