The global path of human rights: A quantitative analysis of trajectories, democracy, and development



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Despite common international acceptance of human rights law, countries and regions vary in their understandings and practices of human rights. This nation-level study sought, first, to develop empirical definitions of human rights; second, to describe the trend of human rights levels across countries and regions of the world; and third, to link development and democracy to country- and region-specific adoption of different generations of human rights. With data taken from the CIRI Human Rights Data Project, the Social Progress Imperative, the Human Development Report, the Polity IV Project, the World Bank Group, and the Association of Religion Data Archives, indicators were extracted to empirically develop human rights constructs, which were then plotted to determine human rights trends over time. Finally, democracy and economic development were used to explain the human rights constructs globally and across 5 geographic world regions. Using principal component method with varimax rotation to conduct exploratory factor analysis, results showed that the latent constructs corresponded to the three-generation framework; however, women’s right were found to be empirically separate from general human rights. First-generation human rights (civil and political) were trending down,
while second-generation rights (economic, social, and cultural) were rising. Results also affirmed expectations of higher levels of first-generation human rights in countries and regions of the Global North. There was no support for the expectation of higher levels of second- and third-generation rights (environmental) among countries and regions of the Global South. Additionally, using generalized least squares (GLS) random-effects modeling for panel data (with robust standard errors) in STATA to analyze the outcome variables did not yield support for the expected positive associations of human rights outcome with democracy and economic development across all three generations. The findings indicate a need for more critical analyses of the causes for the decreases in first-generation rights. Further analyses of countries who have achieved something in the way of gender parity in human rights, and additional work in examining the effects of human rights embedded within a nation’s constitution would also be beneficial.



Human rights, Three-generation framework, Democracy, Economic development, Region