The Cultural Foundations of Modern Democracies

Published in: Nature Human Behaviour (2019). doi: 10.1038/s41562-019-0769-1

Posted on on December 12, 2019

by Damian J. Ruck, Luke J. Matthews, Thanos Kyritsis, Quentin D. Atkinson, R. Alexander Bentley

Read More

Access further information on this document at Springer Nature

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

National democracy is a rare thing in human history and its stability has long been tied to the cultural values of citizens. Yet it has not been established whether changing cultural values made modern democracy possible or whether those values were a response to democratic institutions. Here we combine longitudinal data and cohort information of nearly 500,000 individuals from 109 nations to track the co-evolution of democratic values and institutions over the last century. We find that cultural values of openness towards diversity predict a shift towards democracy and that nations with low institutional confidence are prone to political instability. In addition, the presence of democratic institutions did not predict any substantive changes in the measured cultural values. These results hold accounting for other factors, including gross domestic product per capita and non-independence between nations due to shared cultural ancestry. Cultural values lead to, rather than follow, the emergence of democracy. This indicates that current stable democracies will be under threat, should cultural values of openness to diversity and institutional confidence substantially decline.

Research conducted by

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.