Skip to main content

The Great Recession, Inequality and Occupy Protests around the World

  • Alper H. Yagci

Established wisdom is sceptical of direct linkages between economic hardship and contentious mobilization. Occupy protests seem to constitute an anomaly in this regard by their very existence, but factors associated with these events have not been investigated yet. This study of 398 self-designated Occupy protests across 180 countries finds that the country’s level of inequality was associated with a higher rate of protest. Equally important were the severity of the downturn in GDP growth in 2007–11 and the level of democracy. The results offer some evidence for the ‘inverse J-curve’ hypothesis whereby an economic boom period followed by a downturn is conducive to protest. Few studies have previously investigated the influence of inequality and economic growth on political protest across a diverse set of countries going beyond OECD democracies. The applicability of these findings to protest events more generally needs to be corroborated and discussed in future work.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      The Great Recession, Inequality and Occupy Protests around the World
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      The Great Recession, Inequality and Occupy Protests around the World
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      The Great Recession, Inequality and Occupy Protests around the World
      Available formats
Hide All

Alper H. Yagci is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a GLODEM visitor at Koc University, Istanbul. Contact email:

Hide All
Acemoglu, D. and Robinson, J.A. (2006), Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (New York: Cambridge University Press).
Alesina, A. and Rodrik, D. (1994), ‘Distributive Politics and Economic Growth’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 109(2): 465490.
Anderson, C.J. and Beramendi, P. (2012), ‘Left Parties, Poor Voters, and Electoral Participation in Advanced Industrial Societies’, Comparative Political Studies, 45(6): 714746.
Anduiza, E., Cristancho, C. and Sabucedo, J.M. (2014), ‘Mobilization Through Online Social Networks: The Political Protest of the Indignados in Spain’, Information, Communication and Society, 17(6): 750764.
Auvinen, J. (1997), ‘Political Conflict in Less Developed Countries 1981–89’, Journal of Peace Research, 34(2): 177195.
Balme, R. and Chabanet, D. (2008), European Governance and Democracy: Power and Protest in the EU (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield).
Banks, A.S. (2005), Cross-national Time-series Data Archive (computer file) (New York: Databanks International).
Banks, A.S., Muller, T.C., Overstreet, W.R. and Isacoff, J.F. (2012) (eds), Political Handbook of the World, Online Edition (Washington, DC: CQ Press).
Beck, T., Clarke, G., Groff, A., Keefer, P. and Walsh, P. (2001), ‘New Tools in Comparative Political Economy: The Database of Political Institutions’, World Bank Economic Review, 15(1): 165176.
Bellin, E. (2012), ‘Reconsidering the Robustness of Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Lessons from the Arab Spring’, Comparative Politics, 44(2): 127149.
Bimber, B., Flanagin, A.J. and Stohl, C. (2005), ‘Reconceptualizing Collective Action in the Contemporary Media Environment’, Communication Theory, 15(4): 365388.
Boix, C. (2008), ‘Economic Roots of Civil Wars and Revolutions in the Contemporary World’, World Politics, 60(3): 390437.
Boswell, T. and Dixon, W. (1990), ‘Dependency and Rebellion: A Cross-national Analysis’, American Sociological Review, 55(4): 540559.
Brambor, T., Clark, W.R. and Golder, M. (2006), ‘Understanding Interaction Models: Improving Empirical Analyses’, Political Analysis, 14(1): 6382.
Brancati, D. (2014), ‘Pocketbook Protests: Explaining the Emergence of Pro-democracy Protests Worldwide’, Comparative Political Studies, 47(11): 15031530.
Bratton, M. and Van de Walle, N. (1992), ‘Protest and Political Reform in Africa’, Comparative Politics, 24(4): 419442.
Brush, S.G. (1996), ‘Dynamics of Theory Change in the Social Sciences: Relative Deprivation and Collective Violence’, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 40(4): 523545.
Buechler, S.M. (2004), ‘The Strange Career of Strain and Breakdown Theories of Collective Action’, in D.A. Snow, S.A. Soule and H. Kriesi (eds), The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing): 4766.
Caren, N. and Gaby, S. (2012), ‘Occupy Online: How Cute Old Men and Malcolm X Recruited 400,000 US Users to OWS on Facebook’, Social Movement Studies, 11(3–4): 18.
Cederman, L., Weidmann, N.B. and Gleditsch, K.S. (2011), ‘Horizontal Inequalities and Ethnonationalist Civil War: A Global Comparison’, American Political Science Review, 105(3): 478495.
Collier, P. and Hoeffler, A. (2004), ‘Greed and Grievance in Civil War’, Oxford Economic Papers, 56(4): 563595.
Conover, M.D., Davis, C., Ferrara, E., McKelvey, K. and Menczer, F. (2013a), ‘The Geospatial Characteristics of a Social Movement Communication Network’, PLoS ONE, 8(3): e55957. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0055957.
Conover, M.D., Ferrara, E., Menczer, F. and Flammini, A. (2013b), ‘The Digital Evolution of Occupy Wall Street’, PLoS ONE, 8(5): e64679. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064679.
Davies, J.C. (1962), ‘Toward a Theory of Revolution’, American Sociological Review, 27(1): 519.
Eisinger, P. (1973), ‘The Conditions of Protest Behavior in American Cities’, American Political Science Review, 67: 1128.
Farrell, H. (2012), ‘The Consequences of the Internet for Politics’, Annual Review of Political Science, 15: 3552.
Fleming, A. (2011), ‘Adbusters Sparks Wall Street protest: Vancouver-Based Activists Behind Street Actions in the U.S.’, Vancouver Courier, 27 September.
Galor, O. (2009) (ed.), Inequality and Economic Development: The Modern Perspective (London: Edward Elgar).
Gitlin, T. (2013), ‘Occupy’s Predicament: The Moment and the Prospects for the Movement’, British Journal of Sociology, 64(1): 325.
Global Language Monitor (2011), ‘Top Words of 2011’, Global Language Monitor, 6 December,
Gurr, T.R. (1968), ‘A Causal Model of Civil Strife’, American Political Science Review, 62: 11041124.
Gurr, T.R. (1970), Why Men Rebel (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
González-Bailón, S., Borge-Holthoefer, J., Rivero, A. and Moreno, Y. (2011), ‘The Dynamics of Protest Recruitment Through an Online Network’, Scientific Reports, 1, article 197, doi: 10.1038/srep00197.
Goodin, R. and Dryzek, J. (1980), ‘Rational Participation: The Politics of Relative Power’, British Journal of Political Science, 10: 273292.
Hadenius, A. and Teorell, J. (2007), ‘Pathways from Authoritarianism’, Journal of Democracy, 18(1): 143156.
Haggard, S. and Kaufman, R.R. (1995), The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
Haggard, S. and Kaufman, R.R. (2012), ‘Inequality and Regime Change: Democratic Transitions and the Stability of Democratic Rule’, American Political Science Review, 106(3): 495516.
Hardy, M.A. (1979), ‘Economic Growth, Distributional Inequality, and Political Conflict in Industrial Societies’, Journal of Political and Military Sociology, 5: 209227.
Herkenrath, M. and Knoll, A. (2011), ‘Protest Events in International Press Coverage: An Empirical Critique of Cross-National Conflict Databases’, International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 52(3): 163180.
Hess, S. (2015), ‘Sources of Authoritarian Resilience in Regional Protest Waves: The Post-Communist Colour Revolutions and 2011 Arab Uprisings’, Government and Opposition, 51(1): 129.
Hilbe, J. (2011), Negative Binomial Regression, 2nd edn (New York: Cambridge University Press).
Huntington, S. (1968), Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press).
Imig, D.R. and Tarrow, S.G. (2001) (eds), Contentious Europeans: Protest and Politics in an Emerging Polity (New York: Rowman and Littlefield).
Javeline, D. (2003), ‘The Role of Blame in Collective Action: Evidence from Russia’, American Political Science Review, 97(1): 107121.
Jenkins, J.C. and Schock, K. (1992), ‘Global Structures and Political Processes in the Study of Domestic Political Conflict’, Annual Review of Sociology, 18: 161185.
Jenkins, J.C., Jacobs, D. and Agnone, J. (2003), ‘Political Opportunities and African American Protest, 1948–1997’, American Journal of Sociology, 109(2): 277303.
Jennings, M.K., Van Deth, J.W., Baves, S., Fuchs, D., Heughs, F., Inglehart, R., Kaese, M., Klingemann, H.D. and Thomassen, J. (1989), Continuities in Political Action: A Longitudinal Study of Political Orientations in Three Western Democracies (New York: De Gruyter and Aldine).
Jung, J.K. (2010), ‘Disentangling Protest Cycles: An Event-History Analysis of New Social Movements in Western Europe’, Mobilization, 15(February), 2544.
Kitschelt, H. (1986), ‘Political Opportunity Structures and Political Protest: Anti-nuclear Movements in Four Democracies’, British Journal of Political Science, 16: 5785.
Klandermans, B. (2004), ‘The Demand and Supply of Participation: Social-Psychological Correlates of Participation in Social Movements’, in D.A. Snow, S.A. Soule and H. Kriesi (eds), The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing): 360379.
Koopmans, R. (1996), ‘New Social Movements and Changes in Political Participation in Western Europe’, West European Politics, 19: 2850.
Kriesi, H., Koopmans, R., Duyvendak, J.W. and Giugni, M.C. (1995), The Politics of New Social Movements in Western Europe: A Comparative Analysis (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).
Lambert, D. (1992), ‘Zero-inflated Poisson Regression, with an Application to Defects in Manufacturing’, Technometrics, 34(1): 114.
Leenders, R.Th.A.J. (2002), ‘Modeling Social Influence Through Network Autocorrelation: Constructing the Weight Matrix’, Social Networks, 24(1): 2147.
Lewis-Beck, M.S. and Stegmaier, M. (2000), ‘Economic Determinants of Electoral Outcomes’, Annual Review of Political Science, 3(1): 183219.
Lichbach, M.I. (1989), ‘An Evaluation of “Does Economic Inequality Breed Political Conflict?”’, World Politics, 41(4): 431470.
Lipsky, M. (1968), ‘Protest as a Political Resource’, American Political Science Review, 62: 11441158.
London, B. and Robinson, T.D. (1989), ‘The Effect of International Dependence on Income Inequality and Political Violence’, American Sociological Review, 54: 305307.
Londregan, J.B. and Poole, K. (1996), ‘Does High Income Promote Democracy?’, World Politics, 49: 130.
Lupia, A. and Sin, G. (2003), ‘Which Public Goods Are Endangered? How Evolving Communication Technologies Affect “The Logic of Collective Action”’, Public Choice, 117: 315333.
McAdam, D. (1982), The Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
McCarthy, J.D. and Zald, M.N. (1977), ‘Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory’, American Journal of Sociology, 82: 12121241.
McVeigh, R. (2006), ‘Structural Influences on Activism and Crime: Identifying the Social Structure of Discontent’, American Journal of Sociology, 112(2): 510566.
Meyer, D.S. (2004), ‘Protest and Political Opportunities’, Annual Review of Sociology, 30: 125145.
Miljkovic, D. and Rimal, A. (2008), ‘The Impact of Socio-economic Factors on Political Instability: A Cross-country Analysis’, Journal of Socio-Economics, 37(6): 24542463.
Muller, E.N. (1985), ‘Income Inequality, Regime Repressiveness, and Political Violence’, American Sociological Review, 50: 4761.
Muller, E.N. and Seligson, M.A. (1987), ‘Inequality and Insurgency’, American Political Science Review, 81: 425451.
Muller, E.N. and Weede, E. (1990), ‘Cross-national Variation in Political Violence: A Rational Action Approach’, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 34(4): 624651.
Mueller, L. (2014), ‘Development and the Tolerance for Inequality’, unpublished paper, UCLA.
Myers, D.J. and Caniglia, B.S. (2004), ‘All the Rioting that’s Fit to Print: Selection Effects in National Newspaper Coverage of Civil Disorders, 1968–69’, American Sociological Review, 69(4): 519543.
Nam, T. (2006), ‘What You Use Matters: Coding Protest Data’, PS: Political Science and Politics, 39(2): 281287.
Nollert, M. (1995), ‘Neocorporatism and Political Protest in the Western Democracies: A Cross-national Analysis’, in J.C. Jenkins and B. Klandermans (eds), The Politics of Social Protest: Comparative Perspectives on States and Social Movements (London: University College of London Press): 138164.
Norris, P., Walgrave, S. and Van Aelst, P. (2005), ‘Who Demonstrates? Antistate Rebels, Conventional Participants, or Everyone?’, Comparative Politics, 37: 189205.
Olson, M. (1963), ‘Rapid Growth as a Destabilizing Force’, Journal of Economic History, 23: 529552.
Olson, M. (1965), The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Group (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).
Østby, G. (2008), ‘Polarization, Horizontal Inequalities, and Violent Civil Conflict’, Journal of Peace Research, 45(2): 143162.
Pilati, K. (2011), ‘Political Context, Organizational Engagement, and Protest in African Countries’, Mobilization: An International Quarterly, 16(3): 351368.
Przeworski, A., Alvarez, M.E., Cheibub, J.A. and Limongi, F. (2000), Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-being in the World, 1950–1990 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Robinson, T.D. and London, B. (1991), ‘Dependency, Inequality, and Political Violence’, Journal of Political and Military Sociology, 19: 119156.
Rucht, D., Koopmans, R. and Neidhardt, F. (1999) (eds), Acts of Dissent: New Developments in the Study of Protest (New York: Rowman and Littlefield).
Solt, F. (2008), ‘Economic Inequality and Democratic Political Engagement’, American Journal of Political Science, 52: 4860.
Soule, S.A., McAdam, D., McCarthy, J. and Su, Y. (1999), ‘Protest Events: Cause or Consequence of State Action? The US Women’s Movement and Federal Congressional Activities, 1956–1979’, Mobilization, 4(2): 239256.
Stewart, F. (2008) (ed.), Horizontal Inequalities and Conflict: Understanding Group Violence in Multiethnic Societies (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan).
Su, Y.-P. (2015), ‘Anti-Government Protests in Democracies: A Test of Institutional Explanations’, Comparative Politics, 47(2): 149167.
Tarrow, S. (1989), Democracy and Disorder (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Tilly, C. (1978), From Mobilization to Revolution (New York: Random House).
Tilly, C. (1995), Popular Contention in Great Britain, 1758–1834 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).
Tufekci, Z. and Wilson, C. (2012), ‘Social Media and the Decision to Participate in Political Protest’, Journal of Communication, 62: 363379.
Verba, S., Schlozman, K.L. and Brady, H. (1995), Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press).
Wahman, M., Teorell, J. and Hadenius, A. (2013), ‘Authoritarian Regime Types Revisited: Updated Data in Comparative Perspective’, Contemporary Politics, 19(1): 1934.
Walton, J. and Ragin, C. (1990), ‘Global and National Sources of Political Protest: Third World Responses to the Debt Crisis’, American Sociological Review, 55(6): 876890.
Way, L. (2011), ‘Comparing the Arab Revolts: The Lessons of 1989’, Journal of Democracy, 22(4): 1323.
Weede, E. (1987), ‘Some New Evidence on Correlates of Political Violence: Income Inequality, Regime Repressiveness, and Economic Development’, European Sociological Review, 3(2): 97108.
Weyland, K. (2012), ‘The Arab Spring: Why the Surprising Similarities with the Revolutionary Wave of 1848?’, Perspectives on Politics, 1004: 917934.
Writers for the 99% (2012), Occupying Wall Street: The Inside Story of an Action that Changed America (Melbourne: Scribe Publications).
Zimmerman, E. (1980), ‘Macro-comparative Research on Political Protest’, in T.R. Gurr (ed.), Handbook of Political Conflict (New York: Free Press): 167237.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Government and Opposition
  • ISSN: 0017-257X
  • EISSN: 1477-7053
  • URL: /core/journals/government-and-opposition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Yagci supplementary material
Appendix B

 Word (243 KB)
243 KB
Supplementary materials

Yagci supplementary material
Appendix A

 Word (93 KB)
93 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed