Democracy and the Poor Reassessed

27 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2020

Date Written: December 30, 2019


By using life expectancy as our core indicator of a country's health status, this paper empirically reassesses the political foundations of human biological development. Our overarching question is: does democracy drive the health of nations? To investigate this, we use both the level and change measures of democracy in our regressions. Our overriding discovery can be summarised as follows: accounting for the various country and time features, a one standard deviation increase in the level of democracy, of 0.35, is associated with a 0.11 standard deviation increase in life expectancy. This is equivalent to an increase in life expectancy of around 5 years for a country initially with a mean life expectancy of 54 years. However, we do not find the change measure of democracy to be consistently influential. These results are robust to employing alternative model specifications, to using different subsamples of the data, and to alternative estimation techniques. Additionally, we find that these critical effects are retained when using other measures of health performance. In particular, we see that as the level of democracy rises, each of infant mortality, child mortality, and crude death falls. We, therefore, conclude that the material role of a democratic system, and its institutions, in promoting human welfare, is of first-order relevance.

Keywords: Democracy, health

JEL Classification: D72, I14

Suggested Citation

Oyekola, Olayinka, Democracy and the Poor Reassessed (December 30, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Olayinka Oyekola (Contact Author)

University of Exeter INTO ( email )

Stocker Rd
Exeter, EX4 4PY
United Kingdom


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