Democracy + Money = Better Health | Data Viz

Reviewed by The Clinical Committee

March 29, 2019

  • GDP and Democracy are two of the most important factors for a country's health outcomes.

  • A new study quantifies the effect of a country's politics and economy on health.

  • Democracy is the single most important factor in a country's life expectancy

Life Expectancy in Democracies

life expectancy by democracy and political system

A new study shows that democracy is important for good health. Overall, a country that embraces democracy should expect to see significant improvements in their health and well-being as a society.

On average, a country that does not undergo a democratic transition will actually see a small decrease in their overall life expectancy, even as the rest of the world becomes healthier.

We can see this happening in real time in Venezuela.

Researchers created these estimates based on weighted averages of countries that underwent a democratic transition, and countries that did not. It's clear, based on this data, that citizens generally experienced better health after a democratic transition.

Source: The relationships between democratic experience, adult health, and cause-specific mortality in 170 countries between 1980 and 2016: an observational analysis

Top Contributing Factors to Life Expectancy

top factors for life expectancy in a country

When researchers broke this analysis down by cause of death, they found that the political system and the economy of a country were two of the most important factors for a country's health performance.

In the two biggest causes of deaths, heart disease and cancer, democracy accounted for more variance than GDP. This means that a country's political system has a greater correlation with better outcomes than a country's economy, which is surprising as wealthier people should in theory have access to better healthcare.

Even though democracy plays a bigger role in health than income, some metrics such as maternal mortality correlate more with GDP than with democracy status.

Trends over Time for Heart Disease

heart disease correlates with democracy and gdp

When looking at trends in heart disease over time, researchers found that political systems and economic performance have come to matter more over time. In the past decade, just GDP and democracy status accounted for nearly 40% of the variation in heart disease deaths between countries.

Democracy appears to be literally better for your heart.

Democracy has been more important than a country's economy, though GDP has been increasing in importance over the last decade.

Why This Matters

Over the past few decades, the world has seen dramatic advances. Nearly all countries have experienced increases in health, well-being, and education.

Humanity has never been more prosperous or healthier.

Countries such as the Asian Tigers, including South Korea and Japan, have transformed themselves from poor, mostly agricultural nations, to wealthy countries in just a few decades.

This study looked at the effects of politics and health, namely to see just how important is democracy, or the lack thereof, for a country's public health.

Based on the data above, it appears clear that freedom matters.

However, this data does have some key shortcomings. As an observational study, we cannot know for sure that democracy itself is driving health improvements. There are a lot of factors that go into health and many possible confounding variables.

For example, countries that adopt democracy are more likely to be aligned with the West and the United States. At least part of the benefits of democracy may come from closer links with the United States and Western Europe.

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