Horizontal Inequalities and Ethnonationalist Civil War: A Global Comparison

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Lars-Erik Cederman and Kristian Skrede Gleditsch
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American Political Science Review 105(3), 478-495

Contemporary research on civil war has largely dismissed the role of political and economic grievances, focusing instead on opportunities for conflict. However, these strong claims rest on questionable theoretical and empirical grounds. Whereas scholars have examined primarily the relationship between individual inequality and conflict, we argue that horizontal inequalities between politically relevant ethnic groups and states at large can promote ethnonationalist conflict. Extending the empirical scope to the entire world, this article introduces a new spatial method that combines our newly geocoded data on ethnic groups’ settlement areas with spatial wealth estimates. Based on these methodological advances, we find that, in highly unequal societies, both rich and poor groups fight more often than those groups whose wealth lies closer to the country average. Our results remain robust to a number of alternative sample definitions and specifications.