Honors Thesis Spotlight: The Effects of Democracy on Human Development

Citizens in the United States and across the globe consider democracy essential for improved human development, but the relationship may be more nuanced than most research suggests. Most scholars identify a positive correlation between human development and democracy because of its primary features: electoral accountability, access to information, and individual rights and civil liberties. In this thesis, the author identifies issues with previous empirical studies. For instance, some studies inadequately consider important factors such as the effects of geography, time, and the role of hybridized regimes. This thesis explores the relationship between democracy and two different measures of human development: infant mortality rate and secondary school enrollment numbers.

         The relationship is assessed via a data sample from 195 countries during the period of 1980 to 2019. In order to fully acknowledge hybrid regimes, the author uses two independent variables to represent democracy: Polity2 and stock of democracy. Polity2 measures the level of democracy during a specific time, and stock of democracy considers how long a country uses democratic rule. The author employs two dependent variables to represent human development: infant mortality rate and secondary school enrollment numbers. Traditionally, organizations consider health, education, and quality of life as measures of human development. The author chooses to focus on health and education, as quality of life is very vague. Five control variables are also utilized to capture demographic and economic variables. The author uses 12 ordinary least squares (OLS) regressions to test the relationships between these variables. The first six test how democracy and infant mortality are related, and the other six test how democracy and secondary school enrollment are related.

         For the regressions that explore democracy and infant mortality, Polity2 is only significant in the model where stock of democracy is also included. On the other hand, stock of democracy is statistically significant in all tests except when former overseas colonies are excluded. GDP per capita is statistically significant in all tests, and it reaches higher levels of significance than the other variables. These findings suggest that a country’s history of democratic rule influences its infant mortality rate more than its level at a specific time. However, once the author omits former overseas colonies, this occurrence does not repeat. Ultimately, a country’s GDP per capita (which measures a country’s wealth) has the strongest correlation with less infant mortality.

         The regressions that explore democracy and secondary school enrollment provide different insights. Polity2 is more frequently statistically significant than stock of democracy in these regressions and has negative coefficients. This suggests that a country’s level of democracy decreases enrollment rates. Stock of democracy is only weakly statistically significant in the model when it is the independent variable, and is not significant when former overseas colonies are not considered. While GDP per capita is only strongly statistically significant when former overseas colonies are included, GDP growth is statistically significant in all models with a negative coefficient. These results suggest that economic growth may decrease school enrollment. The percentage of people who live in urban areas is always highly statistically significant, suggesting that countries with higher levels of urban areas may outperform rural countries in educational outcomes. The results suggest that contrary to initial beliefs, economic and demographic factors have more influence on education than both measures of democracy.

         The author suggests that democracy may not influence human development as much as previously believed. They highlight that the models measuring democratic levels at a certain time negatively affect the measures of human development and that demographic and economic factors (as well as global and country-specific trends) influence human development improvements more. The author addresses that missing data might bias these results and acknowledges that this study does not explore a causal relationship between democracy and human development. Future research exploring the causal relationship may be a more accurate representation of the relationship between democracy and human development.

Simon V. Prado

Simon Vincent Prado is a graduate from the College of Social Science and Public Policy at Florida State University. This post was based on Simon’s honors thesis, written by COSSPP blog intern Jacqueline Rao. You can learn more about Simon here. You can learn more about this project here.

Source for featured image: https://www.pexels.com/photo/shallow-photography-of-usa-flag-973049/

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