Ethnicity and Conflict: An Empirical Investigation

By: Joan Esteban, Laura Mayoral and Debraj Ray

Published in:

American Economic Review 102, pages 1310-1342.


This paper examines the impact of ethnic divisions on conflict. The analysis relies on a theoretical model of conflict (Esteban and Ray, 2010) in which equilibrium conflict is shown to be accurately described by a linear function of just three distributional indices of ethnic diversity: the Gini coefficient, the Hirschman-Herfindahl fractionalization index, and a measure of polarization. Based on a dataset constructed by James Fearon and data from Ethnologue on ethno-linguistic groups and the “linguistic distances” between them, we compute the three distribution indices. Our results show that ethnic polarization is a highly significant correlate of conflict. Fractionalization is also significant in some of the statistical exercises, but the Gini coefficient never is. In particular, inter-group distances computed from language and embodied in polarization measures turn out to be extremely important correlates of ethnic conflict.

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Published July 2, 2014 12:58 PM - Last modified July 2, 2014 12:59 PM