Political Behavior

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 909–932 | Cite as

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

  • Masaaki Higashijima
  • Christian HouleEmail author
Original Paper


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.


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

Supplementary material

11109_2017_9430_MOESM1_ESM.docx (19.8 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 20322 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of Information SciencesTohoku UniversitySendaiJapan
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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