How Ethnic Structure Affects Civil Conflict: A Model of Endogenous Ethnic Grievance

Posted: 2 Aug 2014 Last revised: 23 Jun 2018

Date Written: September 9, 2015


Does ethnic structure affect the occurrence of civil conflict and, if so, how? This study develops an agent-based model of endogenous grievances which builds on the new constructivist conceptualization of ethnicity and the theories of group inequality and crosscuttingness. Specifically, I simulate conflict as a function of spontaneous economic disparities between nominal 'ethnic groups' with no predefined salient categories and related antagonism. Then I apply the model to reconsider the effect of (bidimensional) ethnic structure on conflict, which has been largely dismissed in recent scholarship. By varying the parameters of ethnic demography in artificial societies, I conduct a series of replicable experiments revealing that various structural settings yield systematically different patterns of conflict. While there is no 'most hazardous' structure per se, both polarization and crosscuttingness appear to decrease the likelihood of violence but increase its potential deadliness, which indicates a more general tradeoff of conflict incidence and intensity.

Keywords: Civil War, Ethnic Identity, Group Inequality, Agent-based Model

JEL Classification: D74, C63, J15

Suggested Citation

Kustov, Alexander, How Ethnic Structure Affects Civil Conflict: A Model of Endogenous Ethnic Grievance (September 9, 2015). Forthcoming in Conflict Management and Peace Science. Available at SSRN:

Alexander Kustov (Contact Author)

Princeton University ( email )

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics