20 December 2008

Education and democracy

Democratic government and the level of education in a country tend to be highly correlated. Seymour Lipset described this link in his article "Some social requisites of democracy: Economic development and political legitimacy."
"Education presumably broadens man's outlook, enables him to understand the need for norms of tolerance, restrains him from adhering to extremist doctrines, and increases his capacity to make rational electoral choices. ... The higher one's education, the more likely one is to believe in democratic values and support democratic practices. ... If we cannot say that a 'high' level of education is a sufficient condition for democracy, the available evidence suggests that it comes close to being a necessary one." (Lipset 1959: 79-80)
The correlation between education and democracy can be demonstrated with data on the school life expectancy from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the democracy index from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

The democracy index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation, and political culture. The methodology is explained in the full report from the EIU. The EIU calculated the democracy index for 167 countries and territories and placed them within four types of regime, depending on the index score.
  1. Full democracies (score 8-10): 30 countries
  2. Flawed democracies (score 6-7.9): 50 countries
  3. Hybrid regimes (score 4-5.9): 36 countries
  4. Authoritarian regimes (score below 4): 51 countries
The school life expectancy, obtained from the UIS Data Centre, is the total number of years of schooling a child can expect to receive. For 9 of the 167 countries rated by the EIU no data on the school life expectancy were available: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Haiti, North Korea, Montenegro, Papua New Guinea, Saudia Arabia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Turkmenistan.

The values for the 158 countries with data are plotted in the graph below. The school life expectancy is plotted along the horizontal axis and the EIU democracy index along the vertical axis. All countries are identified with their ISO alpha-3 codes.

National school life expectancy and EIU democracy index
Scatter plot with school life expectancy and EIU democracy index
Data source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Economist Intelligence Unit.

The graph shows that increasing school life expectancy is generally associated with a higher EIU democracy index. The average school life expectancy is 16.1 years for full democracies, 12.8 years for flawed democracies, 9.8 years for hybrid regimes, and 9.6 years for authoritarian regimes.

Average school life expectancy by regime type
Regime type School life expectancy (years)
Full democracies 16.1
Flawed democracies 12.8
Hybrid regimes 9.8
Authoritarian regimes 9.6
Data source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Economist Intelligence Unit.

Among authoritarian regimes the school life expectancy has a wider spread than among the other three types of regime. Two countries with authoritarian regimes, Cuba (democracy index 3.5, school life expectancy 16.1 years) and Libya (democracy index 2.0, school life expectancy 16.5 years), match or exceed the average school life expectancy in full democracies.

In contrast, no full democracy except Costa Rica (democracy index 8.0, school life expectancy 11.7 years) has a school life expectancy below 13.5 years. This observation supports Lipset's argument that a high level of education is a necessary condition for democracy.

  • Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1959. Some social requisites of democracy: Economic development and political legitimacy. American Political Science Review 53 (1), March: 69-105.
  • Economist Intelligence Unit. 2008. The Economist Intelligence Unit's index of democracy 2008. October. (Download PDF, 536 KB)
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External links
Friedrich Huebler, 20 December 2008 (edited 21 December 2008), Creative Commons License
Permanent URL: http://huebler.blogspot.com/2008/12/democracy.html

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