Studies in Comparative International Development

, Volume 51, Issue 4, pp 503–529 | Cite as

Inequality, Economic Development, and Democratization

  • Christian Houle


Although multiple theories suggest that economic development and inequality somehow affect democratization, these claims have received only limited empirical support. I contend that much of the confusion stems from the implicit assumption held by the literature that development and inequality affect democratization independently of one another. In this paper, I argue that the effect of income distribution on democratization is in fact contingent on the income level: in middle-income countries inequality fosters democratization; in rich countries, however, it harms democratization. Using a data set covering almost all autocracies between 1960 and 2007, I find evidence consistent with my hypothesis.


Inequality Economic development Democratization 



Winner of the 2011 Kellogg/Notre Dame Award for best paper in comparative politics presented at the MPSA convention. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, at the Annual Meeting of the International Political Economy Society, College Station TX, and at the Comparative Politics Workshop, University of Rochester. I gratefully acknowledge comments and suggestions from Alexandre Debs, Mark Fey, Jennifer Gandhi, Gretchen Helmke, Timothy Hicks, Tasos Kalandrakis, Mark A. Kayser, Jeremy Kedziora, G. Bingham Powell, Curtis Signorino, Randall Stone, Olesya Tkacheva, Jay Ulfelder, Milan Svolik and Jeffrey Weber. I am also grateful to Jonathan Hanson and Rachel Sigman, and Hillel Soifer for sharing data. I would also like thank Jessica Fortin for discussions on different measures of state capacity. All errors are mine.

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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