This study investigates the institutional determinants of the timing of COVID-19 related school closures around the world, focusing on the role of democracy and administrative state capacity. Relying foremost on Cox proportional hazards models of up to 167 countries observed daily between late January and early April of 2020, the study finds that other things being equal, democratic countries tended to implement school closures quicker than those with a more authoritarian regime, while countries with high government effectiveness tended to take longer than those with less effective state apparatuses. A supplementary analysis that distinguishes between the two democratic dimensions of competition and participation indicates that it is the existence of competitive elections that prompts democratic leaders to respond more rapidly. Lastly, auxiliary evidence indicates that demography and family systems may also help determine countries' pandemic responses.
Countries’ school closure dates have been reviewed and revised for accuracy using additional sources of data. The analyses have been extended back to January 28 to include more countries. Some additional variables have been added to the Cox models, including regional spread of COVID-19 and the interaction between democracy and administrative state capacity. More up-to-date variables on democratic competition and participation are now used in the supplementary analysis.