Mar 31, 2022 - World

Democracy is good for your health

Data: V-Dem Institute; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Here's a big reason to study the people of Ukraine: The war is showing in real-time the power of democracy, amid growing global clout for dictators.

Why it matters: Free people live better lives, a mountain of data shows. And sometimes it takes an aspiring democracy to remind us why governments of the people are worth fighting for.

Let the graphic above sink in — then share it with people who trivialize democratic erosion. Democracies are literally disappearing.

  • Of 195 nations on earth, just 34 are liberal democracies — where citizens have rights to free speech, free press, free and fair elections, and other liberties — according to a study by Varieties of Democracy.

Living in a stable democracy leads to a longer and more fulfilling life, the data shows:

  1. Health: If you live in a democracy that’s at least 25 years old, you’re likely to live 14 years longer than people in autocracies, a University of British Columbia study found. Babies in mature democracies are 78% less likely to die in childbirth.
  2. Wealth: Democratization boosts a nation's wealth 20% over 25 years.
  3. Education: Democratization bumps citizens' enrollment in secondary education by 70%.

Reality check: After nuclear war, and possibly climate changes, the rise of authoritarians, like Vladimir Putin, and the decline of democracies has the most potential to shape America’s future — more profoundly than the small-ball fights we often get sucked into.

  • The dictators are winning. A Russian dictator, backed by an authoritarian Chinese leader and enabled by the silence of the Saudis, is killing thousands, seizing land, destroying a nation.
  • A Freedom House report released in February found that 60 countries had suffered declines in democracy in the previous year.

The bottom line: American critics sometimes dog — and in some cases damage — their democracy. But watching Ukrainians amplifies the preciousness and precariousness of freedom. 

This article appeared first in Axios Finish Line, a new newsletter in the Axios Daily Essentials package. Sign up here.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to note that people living in democracies older than 25 years are likely to live longer.

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