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In most countries, democracy is a recent achievement. Dictatorship is far from a distant memory

The data shows that democracy is young in most of the countries that are democratic today.Many democracies are less than a generation old. Twenty-one

The data shows that democracy is young in most of the countries that are democratic today.

Many democracies are less than a generation old. Twenty-one of them are not older than a child, such as the democracies in Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, or Tunisia. Others are only as old as the country’s young adults, such as the democracies in Indonesia, Mexico, and South Africa.

This means that in these countries even most young people have experienced authoritarian rule, and that older people have lacked democratic political rights for a large part of their lives.

A smaller group of countries have been electoral democracies for two or three generations. This includes the democracies in Botswana, Costa Rica, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

In these countries, children and young adults have only known life in a democracy. But their parents and grandparents, and thus large parts of the population, have still experienced non-democratic rule.

Only a few countries have been electoral democracies for a long time. Eight countries — Canada, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States — have been electoral democracies for a century or more. And according to the data, just two countries have been electoral democracies even longer: Australia and Switzerland have been democracies since the mid-19th century. 

Democracy in these countries is therefore older than all or close to all of their citizens.

This does not mean, however, that everyone in these countries has enjoyed democratic political rights since then. For example, the Australian and Swiss governments forbade women to vote and stand in elections until 1902 and 1971, respectively.