Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-tn8tq Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-25T12:16:39.008Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Does Ethnic Inequality Increase State Repression?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 September 2019

Fangjin Ye
School of Public Economics and Administration, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, 777 Guoding Road, Shanghai 200433, China
Sung Min Han*
School of Public Economics and Administration, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, 777 Guoding Road, Shanghai 200433, China
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


We argue that economic inequality between ethnic groups increases state repression. We contend that a high level of ethnic inequality fuels distributional conflicts between poor and rich ethnic groups. It also increases the salience of ethnic identity and promotes ethnic mobilization to challenge the status quo. This between-group tension creates collective grievances for ethnic groups, mounts challenges to incumbent governments and increases perceived threats to governments. The greater the perceived threats, the more likely that governments will employ coercive measures. We further argue that the impact of ethnic inequality on state repression is moderated by the level of democracy. Various institutional mechanisms in democracies increase the costs of repression, reducing leaders’ incentives to employ coercive measures, even when facing high levels of ethnic inequality. Evidence from 152 countries between 1992 and 2011 supports our arguments.


Nous soutenons que l'inégalité économique entre les groupes ethniques accroît la répression étatique. Nous estimons qu'un niveau élevé d'inégalité ethnique alimente les conflits de répartition entre les groupes riches et pauvres. Elle amplifie également l'importance de l'identité ethnique et favorise la mobilisation tendant à remettre en question le statu quo. Cette tension crée des revendications collectives portées par les groupes ethniques, pose des défis aux gouvernements en exercice et accroît chez ces derniers un sentiment d'instabilité. Plus les menaces perçues sont grandes, plus il est probable que les gouvernements auront recours à des mesures coercitives. Nous considérons en outre que l'impact de l'inégalité ethnique sur la répression étatique est modéré par le niveau de démocratie. Dans les démocraties, divers mécanismes institutionnels augmentent le coût de la répression, ce qui réduit les incitations des dirigeants à recourir à des mesures coercitives, même s'ils sont confrontés à de fortes inégalités ethniques. Les données de 152 pays entre 1992 et 2011 appuient notre argumentation.

Research Article/Étude originale
Copyright © Canadian Political Science Association (l'Association canadienne de science politique) and/et la Société québécoise de science politique 2019 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Alesina, Alberto, Devleeschauwer, Arnaud, Easterly, William, Kurlat, Sergio and Wacziarg, Romain. 2003. “Fractionalization.” Journal of Economic Growth 8 (2): 155–94.Google Scholar
Alesina, Alberto, Michalopoulos, Stelios and Papaioannou, Elias. 2016. “Ethnic Inequality.” Journal of Political Economy 124 (2): 428–88.Google Scholar
Banks, Arthur S. 2014. Cross-National Time-Series Data Archive. Databanks International. Jerusalem, Israel.Google Scholar
Bartusevicius, Henrikas. 2014. “The Inequality–Conflict Nexus Re-examined: Income, Education and Popular Rebellions.” Journal of Peace Research 51 (1): 3550.Google Scholar
Beck, Nathaniel and Katz, Jonathan. 1995. “What to Do (and Not to Do) with Time-Series–Cross-Section Data in Comparative Politics.” American Political Science Review 89 (3): 634–47.Google Scholar
Benaabdelaali, Wail, Hanchane, Said and Kamal, Abdelhak. 2012. “Educational Inequality in the World, 1950–2010: Estimates from a New Dataset.” In Inequality, Mobility and Segregation: Essays in Honor of Jacques Silber, ed. A, John. Bishop and Rafael Salas. Bingley, UK: Emerald.Google Scholar
Buhaug, Halvard, Cederman, Lars-Erik and Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede. 2014. “Square Pegs in Round Holes: Inequalities, Grievances, and Civil War.” International Studies Quarterly 58 (2): 418–31.Google Scholar
Cederman, Lars-Erik, Weidmann, Nils B. and Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede. 2011. “Horizontal Inequalities and Ethnonationalist Civil War: A Global Comparison.” American Political Science Review 105 (3): 478–95.Google Scholar
Chua, Amy. 2003. World on Fire: How Exporting Free-Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. London: William Heinemann.Google Scholar
Cingranelli, David and Richards, David. 2010. “The Cingranelli and Richards (CIRI) Human Rights Data Project.” Human Rights Quarterly 32 (2): 401–24.Google Scholar
Coppedge, Michael, Gerring, John, Knutsen, Carl Henrik, Lindberg, Staffan I., Teorell, Jan, Altman, David, Bernhard, Michael, Steven Fish, M., Glynn, Adam, Hicken, Allen, Lührmann, Anna, Marquardt, Kyle L., McMann, Kelly, Paxton, Pamela, Pemstein, Daniel, Seim, Brigitte, Sigman, Rachel, Skaaning, Svend-Erik, Staton, Jeffrey, Wilson, Steven, Cornell, Agnes, Gastaldi, Lisa, Gjerløw, Haakon, Ilchenko, Nina, Krusell, Joshua, Maxwell, Laura, Mechkova, Valeriya, Medzihorsky, Juraj, Pernes, Josefine, von Römer, Johannes, Stepanova, Natalia, Sundström, Aksel, Tzelgov, Eitan, Wang, Yi-ting, Wig, Tore and Ziblatt, Daniel. 2019. “V-Dem [Country-Year/Country-Date] Dataset v9.” Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Project.Google Scholar
Davenport, Christian. 1995. “Multi-Dimensional Threat Perception and State Repression: An Inquiry into Why States Apply Negative Sanctions.” American Journal of Political Science 39 (3): 683713.Google Scholar
Davenport, Christian. 2007. “State Repression and Political Order.” Annual Review of Political Science 10 (1): 123.Google Scholar
Davenport, Christian and Armstrong II, David A.. 2004. “Democracy and the Violation of Human Rights.” American Journal of Political Science 48 (3): 538–54.Google Scholar
Daxecker, Ursula and Hess, Michael. 2013. “Repression Hurts: Coercive Government Response and the Demise of Terrorist Campaigns.” British Journal of Political Science 43 (3): 559–77.Google Scholar
Deiwiks, C., Cederman, Lars-Erik and Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede. 2012. “Inequality and Conflict in Federations.” Journal of Peace Research 49 (2): 289304.Google Scholar
Demirel-Pegg, Tijen and Moskowitz, James. 2009. “US Aid Allocation: The Nexus of Human Rights, Democracy, and Development.” Journal of Peace Research 46 (2): 181–98.Google Scholar
Erica, Frantz, Kendall-Taylor, Andrea, Wright, Joseph and Xu, Xu. Forthcoming. “Personalization of Power and Repression in Dictatorships.Journal of Politics.Google Scholar
Fariss, Christopher. 2014. “Respect for Human Rights Has Improved over Time: Modeling the Changing Standard of Accountability.” American Political Science Review 108 (2): 297318.Google Scholar
Fum, Ruikang and Hodler, Roland. 2010. “Natural Resources and Income Inequality: The Role of Ethnic divisions.” Economics Letters 107 (3): 360–63.Google Scholar
Gibney, Mark, Cornett, Linda, Wood, Reed and Haschke, Peter. 2012. “Political Terror Scale 1976–2012.” Data retrieved from the Political Terror Scale website: Scholar
Gordon, Raymond. 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Dallas: SIL International.Google Scholar
Henderson, Vernon, Storeygard, Adam, and Weil, David. 2011. “A Bright Idea for Measuring Economic Growth.” American Economic Review 101 (3): 194–99.Google Scholar
Hill, Daniel and Jones, Zachary. 2014. “An Empirical Evaluation of Explanations for State Repression.” American Political Science Review 108 (3): 661–87.Google Scholar
Hillesund, Solveig. 2015. “A Dangerous Discrepancy: Testing the Micro-Dynamics of Horizontal Inequality on Palestinian Support for Armed Resistance.” Journal of Peace Research 52 (1): 7690.Google Scholar
Honaker, James and King, Gary. 2010. “What to Do about Missing Values in Time-Series Cross-Section Data.” American Journal of Political Science 54 (2): 561–81.Google Scholar
Houle, Christian. 2015. “Ethnic Inequality and the Dismantling of Democracy: A Global Analysis.” World Politics 67 (2): 469505.Google Scholar
Houle, Christian, Kenny, Paul D. and Park, Chunho. 2019. “The Structure of Ethnic Inequality and Ethnic Voting.” Journal of Politics 81 (1): 187200.Google Scholar
Langer, Arnim. 2005. “Horizontal Inequalities and Violent Group Mobilization in Côte d'Ivoire.” Oxford Development Studies 33 (1): 2545.Google Scholar
Lee, Chris, Lindstrom, Ronny, Moore, Will and Turan, Kursad. 2004. “Ethnicity and Repression: The Ethnic Composition of Countries and Human Rights Violations.” In Understanding Human Rights Violations: New Systematic Studies, ed. Carey, Sabine C. and Poe, Steven C.. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Marshall, Monty, Jaggers, Keith and Gurr, Ted Robert. 2014. College Park, MD: Center for International Development and Conflict Management, University of Maryland. Scholar
Martin, Larry W. and Vanberg, George. 2011. Parliaments and Coalitions: The Role of Legislative Institutions in Multiparty Governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Moore, Will. 1995. “Rational Rebels: Overcoming the Free-Rider Problem.” Political Research Quarterly 48 (2): 417–54.Google Scholar
Muchlinski, David, Siroky, David, He, Jingrui and Kocher, Mattew. 2016. “Comparing Random Forest with Logistic Regression for Predicting Class-Imbalanced Civil War Onset Data.” Political Analysis 24 (1): 87103.Google Scholar
Nordas, Ragnhild and Davenport, Christian. 2013. “Fight the Youth: Youth Bulges and State Repression.” American Journal of Political Science 57 (4): 926–40.Google Scholar
Østby, Gudrun. 2008. “Polarization, Horizontal Inequalities and Violent Civil Conflict.” Journal of Peace Research 45 (2): 143–62.Google Scholar
Østby, Gudrun, Nordås, Ragnhild and Rød, Jan Ketil. 2009. “Regional Inequalities and Civil Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa.” International Studies Quarterly 53 (2): 301–24.Google Scholar
Pallister, Kevin. 2013. “Why No Mayan Party? Indigenous Movements and National Politics in Guatemala.” Latin American Politics and Society 55 (3): 117–38.Google Scholar
Pinkovskiy, Maxim and Sala-i-Martin, Xavier. 2016. “Lights, Camera, … Income! Estimating Poverty Using National Accounts, Survey Means, and Lights.Quarterly Journal of Economics 131 (2): 579631.Google Scholar
Poe, Steven C., Carey, Sabine C. and Vazquez, Tanya C.. 2001. “How Are These Pictures Different? A Quantitative Comparison of the US State Department and Amnesty International Human Rights Reports, 1976–1995.” Human Rights Quarterly 23 (3): 650–77.Google Scholar
Poe, Steven C. and Tate, C. Neal. 1994. “Repression of Human Rights to Personal Integrity in the 1980s: A Global Analysis.” American Political Science Review 88 (4): 853–72.Google Scholar
Rørbæk, Lasse Lykke and Knudsen, Allan Toft. 2017. “Maintaining Ethnic Dominance: Diversity, Power, and Violent Repression.” Conflict Management and Peace Science 34 (6): 640–59.Google Scholar
Ross, Michael and Mahdavi, Paasha. 2015. “Oil and Gas Data, 1932–2014.” Data retrieved from Harvard Dataverse, Scholar
Solt, Frederick. 2009. “Standardizing the World Income Inequality Database.” Social Science Quarterly 90 (2): 231–42.Google Scholar
Stewart, Frances. 2000. “Crisis Prevention: Tackling Horizontal Inequalities.” Oxford Development Studies 28 (3): 245–62.Google Scholar
Stewart, Frances. 2002. “Horizontal Inequalities: A Neglected Dimension of Development.” QEH Working Paper 81, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford, Scholar
Vadlamannati, Krishna Chaitanya. 2011. “Why Indian Men Rebel? Explaining Armed Rebellion in the Northeastern States of India, 1970–2007.” Journal of Peace Research 48 (5): 605–19.Google Scholar
Walker, Scott. 2007. “Are Regimes in Diverse Societies More Repressive? A Crosstemporal, Crossnational Analysis.Political Science 59 (1): 2344.Google Scholar
Weidmann, Nils, Rod, Jan Ketil and Cederman, Lars-Erik. 2010. “Representing Ethnic Groups in Space: A New Dataset.” Journal of Peace Research 47 (4): 491–99.Google Scholar
Wimmer, Andreas, Cederman, Lars-erik and Min, Brian. 2009. “Ethnic Politics and Armed Conflict: A Configurational Analysis of a New Global Dataset.” American Sociological Review 74 (2): 316–37.Google Scholar
Supplementary material: File

Ye and Han supplementary material

Online Appendix

Download Ye and Han supplementary material(File)
File 99.1 KB