Ethnic Inequality and the Strength of Ethnic Identities in Sub-Saharan Africa

Masaaki Higashijima, Christian Houle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Ethnic inequality has been argued to have numerous pernicious effects. Among other things, scholars have argued that it breeds political violence, destabilizes democracy, and impedes economic development. While the arguments developed by these literatures implicitly assume that ethnic inequality increases the degree to which individuals identify with their ethnicity, this assumption has yet to be tested empirically at the individual-level. This paper argues and empirically demonstrates that between-ethnic group inequality does strengthen ethnic identities. However, we also find that the magnitude of its effect weakens as inequality within ethnic groups increases. That is, individuals identify most strongly with their ethnic identity when ethnicity is reinforced by economic inequality. Using the Afrobarometer, we provide the first cross-national empirical test of the effect of ethnic inequality on the strength of ethnic identities at the individual-level. Our dataset covers 21 sub-Saharan African countries and 85 ethnic groups. Results strongly support our hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)909-932
Number of pages24
JournalPolitical Behavior
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Dec 1
Externally publishedYes


  • Economic inequality
  • Ethnic identification
  • Ethnic inequality
  • Identity politics
  • Social cleavages
  • Sub-Saharan Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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