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Stable democracies have long been tied to the cultural values of citizens. But the stability of democracies worldwide could be vulnerable if certain cultural values decline, according to a new study published in Nature Human Behavior.

The findings by researchers from the United States and New Zealand are based on an analysis of survey data from nearly 500,000 individuals from 109 countries.

Damian Ruck
Damian Ruck

Damian Ruck, lead author on the study and postdoctoral research fellow in UT’s Department of Anthropology, worked with Alex Bentley, professor of anthropology, Luke Matthews from the policy research think tank RAND, and University of Auckland psychologists Quentin Atkinson and Thanos Kyritsis to examine historical changes in countries with varying political systems over 100 years.

“It is often taken for granted that democratic culture will just follow once democratic institutions have been installed,” said Ruck. “But when looking at the data we see cultural values, such as openness and tolerance, precede both economic development and democratization.”

Where confidence in institutions such as the government and the media is low, democracy tends to be unstable. In the study, some Western nations were among those with multi-decade declines in institutional confidence.

Despite the declines in institutional confidence and growing nationalism in some Western nations, the study found a global trend toward greater openness and tolerance.

“During the last century, the world has become vastly more connected,” Ruck said. “More of us are exposed to people with different backgrounds and lifestyles, which encourages openness and tolerance, and is good news for the future of democracy.”

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CONTACT:

Brian Canever (865-974-0937, bcanever@utk.edu)​