Shared Cultural Ancestry Predicts the Global Diffusion of Democracy

Published in: Evolutionary Human Sciences, Volume 4, e42 (2022). doi: 10.1017/ehs.2022.40

Posted on RAND.org on November 04, 2022

by Thanos Kyritsis, Luke J. Matthews, David Welch, Quentin D. Atkinson

Understanding global variation in democratic outcomes is critical to efforts to promote and sustain democracy today. Here, we use data on the democratic status of 221 modern and historical nations stretching back up to 200 years to show that, particularly over the last 50 years, nations with shared linguistic and, more recently, religious ancestry have more similar democratic outcomes. We also find evidence that for most of the last 50 years the democratic trajectory of a nation can be predicted by the democratic status of its linguistic and, less clearly, religious relatives, years and even decades earlier. These results are broadly consistent across three democracy indicators (Polity 5, Vanhanen's Index of Democracy, and Freedom in the World) and are not explained by geographical proximity or current shared language or religion. Our findings suggest that deep cultural ancestry remains an important force shaping the fortunes of modern nations, at least in part because democratic norms, institutions, and the factors that support them are more likely to diffuse between close cultural relatives.

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