Does Democracy Reduce Ethnic Inequality?

The forthcoming article “Does Democracy Reduce Ethnic Inequality?” by Lasse Egendal Leipziger  is summarized by the author below.

Do democratic transitions reduce socioeconomic inequality between ethnic groups? I argue that democratization empowers previously excluded ethnic groups, enabling them to mobilize and hold governments accountable, ultimately leading to the implementation of more egalitarian policies. However, the equalizing influence of democracy depends on the level of ethnic inequality under the previous, non-democratic regime. Non-democracies with high levels of ethnic inequality are likely to experience larger reductions following democratization than more egalitarian non-democracies. This is because disadvantaged groups in the most unequal countries tend to have more pronounced collective grievances that they seek to address. 

For example, the MAS party in Bolivia or the ANC in South Africa came to power following democratization and represented Indigenous Bolivians and Black South Africans, respectively. These parties leveraged their newfound political influence to advance universal and targeted social policies and pass legislation to reduce discrimination against the historically marginalized groups. 

To examine the argument, I draw on three different measures that reflect a country’s level of socioeconomic ethnic inequality. My findings show that countries experience substantive reductions in ethnic disparities following democratic transitions. However, this pattern is more pronounced in countries that had greater inequality during autocratic rule. Additionally, I examine the socioeconomic situation of different ethnic groups and observe that democratic transitions lead to a convergence between advantaged and disadvantaged groups. For example, democratization narrowed the socioeconomic gap between Bolivians of Indigenous and European descent. Consistent with the argument, I also show that democratic transitions are associated with increased ethnic political inclusion, reduced discrimination, and shifts in social policies. 

The findings contribute to our understanding of democracy’s impact on inequality. Despite the persistence of ethnic disparities, democratization can set in motion dynamics that favor historically marginalized groups. By promoting equality between groups, democracy also helps to reduce many of the negative effects of ethnic disparities, including civil conflict, difficulties in public goods provision, and reduced individual well-being. 

About the Author: Lasse Egendal Leipziger is a PhD Candidate at Aarhus University. Their research “Does Democracy Reduce Ethnic Inequality?” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Speak Your Mind



The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

%d bloggers like this: