The claim that education leads to democracy has a lot of intuitive appeal. Educated people are probably more inclined to demand political participation, and those in power who hesitate about granting democratic rights will be less hesitant when they have to grant these rights to educated people. The claim is also supported by the fact that democracy requires some level of education in order to function adequately.
And there is indeed a correlation between levels of democracy and levels of education. Furthermore, it seems that the causation goes mainly from education to democracy. Some evidence for this is here and here – although it’s also true that democracies are better educators. There’s also evidence here that it’s mainly primary education levels that drive democracy. The effect of primary education even outstrips the effect of GDP on democracy.
And there’s even more, albeit quasi-anecdotal evidence for this claim. Let’s have a look at the Arab Spring. Although one can’t possible argue that democracy is now the common form of government in the Middle East, a first step towards democratization has been taken, and it’s likely that the push came from the fact that education levels in those Arab countries that have witnessed recent uprisings have risen sharply in recent decades.
[T]he Arab Spring was partly predictable, as Middle Eastern countries displayed levels of democracy that were lower than those predicted by their level of education and income. … [The f]igure [below] focuses on these countries in particular, showing that their levels of democracy as predicted by our empirical model [based on education levels] lie above their pre-2011 actual levels. In other words, the Arab Spring could be expected based on a dynamic statistical model of the factors that drive democracy (interestingly, the same observation holds for Iraq and Cuba). (source)
More posts in this series are here.