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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 

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