Live Longer – Choose Your Country Wisely (if you can)

April 25, 2012

(This article was first published on Graph of the Week, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

life expectancy by government type
Full democracy countries are the ones in which to live.

This week’s story could start and end with the above graph with almost no further explanation.

But that wouldn’t do it justice.

So, like so many of the past articles on “Graph of the Week“, a bit of analysis will be provided based on collected data and research. Starting with what is shown above, it is clear that people tend to live longer under full democracies. The range of life spans under this type of government nearly always are above 80. Compare that with other forms of government where only a select few nations have longevity near that age.

And as might be expected, authoritarian regimes have the most countries with comparatively short life expectancies.


Government Spending on Healthcare

In the first graph, the countries in blue are the ones under a full democracy and also rank very high on the democracy index scale. Using those same colors below, it is plainly obvious that these same countries spend more per capita on healthcare than do other forms of government – a lot more:

higher democracy index equals more per capita spending on health care
The Nordic countries lead the way again.

Freedom, Compassion and Longevity

In many of these countries, there is some form of universal healthcare which accounts for much of the spending. Regarding the U.S., a significant amount is spent on Medicare and Medicaid, but there is no universal health care. There certainly seems to be a relationship between freedom, compassion and longevity in countries embracing full democracies (see previous chart showing democracy index and internet penetration). In other words, those countries that look after their own tend to live longer lives. Since humans are a social species, this isn’t a surprise.

Universal Health Care – Quality

There is usually some form of universal health care in authoritarian regimes as well. On the surface, it would appear that all things are equal until the amount of spending on health care is examined. Clearly, full democracies spend much more on their systems than the others. That, combined with the longevity factor paints a picture which suggests more spending is needed to increase life spans. It is not enough to simply have a universal health care system; rather, the quality of that system is what drives longevity.

That being said, the quality of a health care system isn’t reflected by the amount spent. It is useful to see expenditure as an indicator, but not as a cause of a quality system. To more accurately evaluate this aspect, further research would be needed and is out of the scope of this article.


Countries in which their citizens have little voice in their own destinies would do well to make changes to reverse this situation. Unfortunately, most leaders in power are loathe to give up said power due to its many perks – at the cost, health, happiness and freedom of its citizens. This is a tragedy on a global scale.

This has been the 2nd article to identify a relationship between democracy and other factors.  The first showed that internet availability is much higher in countries with a high democracy index. Stay tuned for more articles in this series.

1) When might we see the highest average life span creep into the 90 year range?
2) The Arab Spring has started – will something similar happen in other authoritarian countries?
3) Has quality of life (not the same as standard of living) also been improved along with longevity?


These graphs were generated using the ‘ggplot2‘ package within the R programming language. In the future, different plotting packages will begin to be seen here, including 3d plots and trellis plots. Stay tuned!

1st graph:

ggplot(health.frame, aes(x=Category, y=Life.expectancy, group=Category, fill=Category, label=Location)) +
    geom_boxplot() +
    ylab("Life Expectancy") +
    xlab("Government Type") +
    opts(title="Life Expectancy by Government Type (2009)",
        legend.title = theme_blank(),
        panel.background = theme_blank(),
        axis.text.x=theme_text(angle=0, hjust=0.5))
2nd graph:

ggplot(health.frame, aes(x=Index, y=Per.capita.government.US, label=Location, color=Category)) +
    geom_point(size=0.5, colour='dark grey') +
    geom_text(size=3.5, angle=0, hjust=.5) +
    ylab("Per Capita Government Spending (U.S. Dollars)") +
    xlab("Democracy Index") +
    opts(title="Gov't Health Care Expenditures vs. Democracy Index (2009)",
        legend.title = theme_blank(),
        panel.background = theme_blank())

Further Reading:

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