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The Roots of Ethnic Diversity

Journal article
Authors Pelle Ahlerup
Ola Olsson
Published in Journal of Economic Growth
Volume 17
Issue 2
Pages 71-102
ISSN 1381-4338
Publication year 2012
Published at Gothenburg Centre for Globalization and Development (GCGD)
Department of Economics
Pages 71-102
Language en
Keywords ethnic diversity
Subject categories Economics


The level of ethnic diversity is believed to have significant consequences for economic and political development within countries. In this article, we provide a theoretical and empirical analysis of the determinants of ethnolinguistic diversity in the world. We introduce a model of cultural and genetic drift where new groups endogenously emerge among peripheral populations in response to an insufficient supply of collective goods. In line with our model, we find that the duration of human settlements since prehistoric times has a strong positive association with current levels of ethnolinguistic diversity. Diversity is further negatively correlated with the length of modern state experience and with distance from the equator. Our results are thus consistent with both “evolutionary” and “constructivist” hypotheses of ethnolinguistic fractionalization.

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