October 17, 2022

Ethnicity and Civil War


  • Ethnicity and Civil War?
  • Are diverse societies prone to conflict?
  • Paper Grades

Ethnicity and Civil War

Ethnicity and Civil War Linked?

Your examples of ethnic conflict focused on civil wars:

  • Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ethiopia, and more…

Ethnicity and Civil War Linked?

Now we have possible explanations


  • ethnic groups good for coordinating coalitions to compete for scarce resources
  • many electoral rules encourage ethnic parties to adopt more extreme policy positions


  • people concerned with ethnic status comparisons
  • efforts to increase group status \(\to\) conflict
  • ethnic status fears \(+\) elections \(\to\) fears of permanent domination

Ethnicity and Civil War Linked?

Key implication of these arguments is that states with greater ethnic diversity\(^*\) are more prone to conflict, which could then turn into civil war.

  • These conflicts, particularly over relative ethnic status, cannot be resolved within ‘ordinary’ politics

We have lots of theoretical explanations for ethnic diversity producing conflict…

… but is there evidence that there is a link?

Ethnicity and Civil War

Fearon and Laitin (2003)

First major attempt to answer:

  • Is ethnic diversity actually related to civil conflict?
  • What other attributes of countries are actually related to civil conflict?

Fearon and Laitin (2003)

Collect data on:

  • 161 countries between 1945 and 1999
  • measure incidence of civil war
  • measure ethnic diversity
  • measure other possible explanations of civil war

Then compare the incidence of civil war in places with greater/lesser ethnic diversity.

Measuring Civil War

Fearon and Laitin count as civil wars conflicts in which …

  • fighting is between a state and organized non-state groups over control of the government (or a region)
  • there are \(>1000\) deaths overall, and \(>100\) deaths per year on average.
  • there have been \(>100\) deaths on both sides of the conflict.

In total, they find \(127\) civil wars.

  • What questions/concerns do you have about this approach to measuring civil war?

We want to compare ethnic diversity of countries around the world.

Discuss with your neighbors:

  1. what are ways we can or should measure ethnic diversity?

  2. what are challenges or difficulties that would make measuring ethnic diversity difficult?

Think about:

  • what kinds of data might exist?
  • how should we combine that data to reflect “diversity”
  • what kinds of “diversity” are relevant to conflict (according to theory)?
  • is this comparable across countries?

Fearon and Laitin (2003)

They compare country-years with differing levels of ethnic diversity, “holding constant” economic growth, population size, democracy, terrain features, and other sources of conflict…

they find that…

  • there is no relationship between ethnic diversity and civil war
  • Surprised? Why?

Fearon and Laitin (2003)

Correlates of Civil War:

\(1.\) Ethnic diversity: no relationship - measured as ELF, as size of largest group, presence of majority with large minority

\(2.\) Linguistic/religious discrimination: no relationship

\(3.\) GDP per capita: negative relationship

\(4.\) Population size: positive relationship

\(5.\) Newly Independent: positive relationship

\(6.\) Mountainous terrain: positive relationship

Ethnicity and Civil War?

Two ways of responding to Fearon and Laitin’s findings:

  1. Measurement: Does the measurement of ethnic diversity make sense?

  2. Theory: Ethnic diversity as such does not lead to civil war. Particular types of ethnic configurations produce conflict

Measuring Diversity

“Ethno-linguistic fractionalization”: “ELF”

\[ELF = 1 - \sum_{i=1}^{n} s_i^2\]

Where \(s_i\) is fraction of population for group \(i \in \lbrace 1 \ldots n \rbrace\)

Interpret as: probability that any two random individuals belong to different ethnic groups

Measuring Diversity

Measure size \(s\) of ethnic groups \(1 \ldots n\) using

  1. Atlas Narodov Mira: Soviet anthropological text from 1964
    • lists ethnic groups in each country and their size
  2. Encyclopedia Britannica
  3. CIA World Factbook

Can you think of any potential problems with this approach?

Measuring Diversity

ELF treats these two situations as identical

  • Country A: Group 1 50%, Group 2 50%
    • \(ELF = 0.5\)
  • Country B: Group 1 66.6%, Group 2 16.6%, Group 3 16.6%
    • \(ELF = 0.5\)

Measuring Diversity

ELF measure

  • Ignores where ethnic groups are in space
  • Ignores the content of the ethnic boundary
  • Permits only one dimension of ethnicity

Measuring Diversity

  • Which ethnic categories are measured? Which ethnic categories are activated?
  • Are ethnic categories and relative population stable over time?
  • Soviet anthropologists weren’t always right:
    • sometimes used ethnic categories that were not operative/activated
    • In Rwanda, Hutus and Tutsis coded as one ethnic group.


No clear relationship between ethnic diversity and civil war


  1. There are serious measurement issues to address.
  2. Our theories have more nuance: ethnic diversity might generate civil war under some conditions, but not others.



Overall, well done! Mean of 77.1% (B+), including late penalties.

  • Do not attempt overly strong thesis; make sure thesis is clear
  • Make sure evidence is clearly linked to the argument
  • Devote 1 paragraph at least to describing and then trying to reject counter-arguments