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Soc Sci Med. 2013 Sep;93:166-75. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.05.010. Epub 2013 May 18.

Democratization and life expectancy in Europe, 1960-2008.

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  • 1Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, Netherlands.


Over the past five decades, two successive waves of political reform have brought democracy to, first, Spain, Portugal and Greece, and, more recently, Central and Eastern European countries. We assessed whether democratization was associated with improvements in population health, as indicated by life expectancy and cause-specific mortality rates. Data on life expectancy at birth, age-standardized total and cause-specific mortality rates, levels of democracy and potential time-variant confounding variables were collected from harmonized international databanks. In two pooled cross-sectional time-series analyses with country-fixed effects, life expectancy and cause-specific mortality were regressed on measures of current and cumulative democracy, controlling for confounders. A first analysis covered the 1960-1990 period, a second covered the 1987-2008 period. In the 1960-1990 period, current democracy was more strongly associated with higher life expectancy than cumulative democracy. The positive effects of current democracy on total mortality were mediated mainly by lower mortality from heart disease, pneumonia, liver cirrhosis, and suicide. In the 1987-2008 period, however, current democracy was associated with lower, and cumulative democracy with higher life expectancy, particularly among men. The positive effects of cumulative democracy on total mortality were mediated mainly by lower mortality from circulatory diseases, cancer of the breast, and external causes. Current democracy was associated with higher mortality from motor vehicle accidents in both periods, and also with higher mortality from cancer and all external causes in the second. Our results suggest that in Europe during these two periods democratization has had mixed effects. That short-term changes in levels of democracy had positive effects in the first but not in the second period is probably due to the fact that democratization in Central and Eastern Europe was part of a complete system change which caused major societal disruptions.

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Causes of death; Democracy; Europe; Fixed effects models; Life expectancy; Mortality

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