Journal Articles

Democracy and Ethnic Inequality: A Comparative Case Study (2024)

Democratization, accepted for publication

Recent studies have found that democratization and reductions of socioeconomic ethnic inequality generally show a positive association. Yet, the causal mechanisms behind the co-variation are not well understood. Moreover, the identified relationship covers considerable heterogeneity, with some transitions to democracy being followed by significant distributive change and others not. To shed additional light on the relationship, this article examines the political and social dynamics related to five democratic transitions. Three led to reduced socioeconomic inequality across ethnic groups, two did not. The “positive” cases (Bolivia, South Africa, and Nepal after 2006) reveal that political empowerment of socioeconomically disadvantaged groups and consequent changes in policies constitute important drivers of reduced ethnic inequalities. In contrast, the “negative” cases (Guatemala and Nepal 1991–2002) demonstrate that democracy only leads to reduced ethnic inequality if democratization is followed by effective mobilization by the previously excluded group(s), and this step might be obstructed by traditional elites.

Ethnic Inequality, Democratic Transitions, and Democratic Breakdowns: Investigating an Asymmetrical Relationship (2024)

Journal of Politics, 86(1), 291-304 

Do socioeconomic disparities between ethnic groups influence whether a country democratizes and remains democratic? I propose that, on average, high levels of ethnic inequality do not affect the prospects of democratization due to competing mechanisms. Although such inequalities give rise to grievances that fuel the demand for democracy, they also make the ruling elites from dominant groups less willing to concede political rights. However, ethnic inequality is generally associated with an increased risk of democratic breakdowns because high-inequality countries are more likely to experience politicized ethnic divides, distributional conflicts, and polarization. Investigating these arguments with time-series, cross-national data, I find that while there is a relatively strong and robust association between ethnic inequality and the risk of democratic breakdown, ethnic inequality is not associated with transitions to democracy. Examinations of potential mechanisms based on national and group-level data lend further support to the argument.

Link to article here.

Blog link here.

Link to replication data here.

Does Democracy Reduce Ethnic Inequality? (2023)

American Journal of Political Science, early view

To what extent and under what conditions do democratic institutions reduce socioeconomic ethnic inequality? I argue that democratization reduces ethnic inequality by introducing electoral accountability, which facilitates a series of egalitarian policies. However, the effect of democratization is conditional on the distribution of resources under the previous, nondemocratic regime. Countries that were more ethnically unequal prior to democratization experience greater egalitarian effects following democratization. To examine the argument, I leverage multiple country- and group-level measures of ethnic inequality. Using fixed effects regressions, instrumental variable analyses, and event studies, I demonstrate that democratization substantively reduces ethnic inequality, but mainly for countries with high predemocratic levels of inequality.

Link to article here.

Blog link here.

Link to replication data here.

Measuring Ethnic Inequality: An Assessment of Extant Cross-National Indices (2023)

British Journal of Political Science, 53(2), 652-673

This article offers an evaluation of cross-national measures of ethnic socio-economic inequality. It demonstrates that the measures differ in important ways regarding empirical scope, conceptualization, measurement and aggregation. Despite significant advances in the measurement of ethnic inequality, all measures have shortcomings, such as limited and biased coverage, as well as measurement error from the underlying data sources. Moreover, the empirical convergence between conceptually similar measures is strikingly low: some of the measures show no or even negative covariation. Four replication studies also indicate that extant measures of ethnic inequality are generally not interchangeable. Scholars should therefore take the various features highlighted in this evaluation into account before employing any of them. Based on this conclusion, the article offers multiple suggestions for improving existing measures and developing new ones.

Link to article here.

Link to replication data here.

Book chapters

Does Economic Inequality Harm Democratic Quality? No, but Yes (2023)

In C. Green-Pedersen, C. Jensen & B. Vis (eds), No Normal Science: Festschrift for Kees van Kersbergen. Politica, pp.187-201. With Thorsen M. T., and Skaaning, SE.


According to a widely held view, economic inequality undermines democracy. While the link between inequality and regime change has been studied extensively, the relationship between economic inequality and the degree of democraticness in countries with free, inclusive elections is underexplored. Inspired by Dahl, we distinguish between democratic quality understood as the fulfilment of procedural-institutional features on the one hand and as substantive political equality on the other hand. We expect that while economic inequality might not undermine democracy understood in a procedural-institutional fashion, the stronger principle of political inequality is more likely to be affected by economic disparities. To examine these predictions, we analyze time-series cross-section data spanning the period 1960-2020 using two-way fixed effects estimators. Our results indicate that economic inequality, measured as income inequality, is not a robust predictor of democratic quality understood as the fulfilment of procedural-institutional criteria associated with polyarchy and liberal democracy. However, income inequality is a robust predictor of two different proxies of political inequality. Whether economic inequality harms democratic quality thus depends on how demanding our concept of democracy is.

Link to book chapter here.