Ethnicity and Conflict: An Empirical Study

DRI Working Paper No. 65
By Joan Esteban, Laura Mayoral and Debraj Ray

Abstract: 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-Herndahl 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.