WORKING PAPER: Ethnicity and Conflict: An Empirical Study

Everyone has heard that ethnic divisions can lead to conflict, but is this empirically true? Moreover, how exactly might ethnicity matter during conflict? A new DRI Working Paper by Joan Esteban, Laura Mayoral and DRI Affiliated Faculty Debraj Ray study the issue in past conflicts across three measures: ethnic polarization, ethnic fractionalization and the level of cohesion within the group. From the abstract:

This paper examines the impact of ethnic divisions on con ict. The empirical speci cation is informed by a theoretical model of conflict (Esteban and Ray, 2011) in which equilibrium conflict is related to just three distributional indices of diversity: ethnic polarization, ethnic fractionalization, and a Greenberg-Gini index constructed across ethnic groups. Our empirical findings verify that these distributional measures are signifi cant correlates of conflict. The underlying theory permits us to use these results to make inferences about the relative importance of public goods in conflict, as well as the extent of within-group cohesion in conflictual activity. These eff ects are further strengthened as we introduce country-speci c measures of group cohesion and the relative importance of public goods, and combine them with the distributional measures exactly as speci ed by the theory.

They find that all three specifications matter for conflict:

The main result of this paper is that polarization | using linguistic distances | has a large and highly signi cant impact on conflict across a number of diff erent specifi cations. By and large, though with somewhat lesser consistency, this is also true of fractionalization. These two findings suggest that public and private components of conflict are generally both present, and that group cohesion is present during conflict. The numerical eff ects of the two measures are also quite similar and strong. For instance, moving polarization from the 20th percentile to the 80th percentile, holding all other variables at their means, approximately doubles the chances of conflict, and the same is true of fractionalization.

Read the paper.

Read about the theoretical model of conflict.