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The health costs of ethnic distance: evidence from sub-Saharan Africa

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  • Joseph Flavian Gomes

    () (UCLouvain
    CEPR)

Abstract

This paper shows that children of mothers who are ethnically more distant from their neighbours have worse health outcomes. I combine individual-level micro data from DHS surveys for 14 sub-Saharan African countries with a novel high-resolution dataset on the spatial distribution of ethnic groups at the $$1\,\hbox {km} \times 1\,\hbox {km}$$1km×1km level. I measure ethnic distance using linguistic distance and construct the spatial distribution of ethnic groups using an iterative proportional fitting algorithm. Using a time-varying ethnicity fixed effects framework to curb unobserved heterogeneity across ethnic groups, I show that children whose mothers are linguistically more distant from their neighbours face higher mortality rates and are shorter in stature. The pernicious effects of linguistic distance are more pronounced in areas where malaria is endemic. I argue that higher linguistic distance impedes the transmission of information. Consistent with this interpretation, mothers who are linguistically more distant from their neighbours are less likely to receive health-related information. Linguistic distances driven by splits that occurred thousands of years ago are more relevant than more recent splits.

Suggested Citation

  • Joseph Flavian Gomes, 2020. "The health costs of ethnic distance: evidence from sub-Saharan Africa," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 25(2), pages 195-226, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jecgro:v:25:y:2020:i:2:d:10.1007_s10887-020-09177-4
    DOI: 10.1007/s10887-020-09177-4
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    Cited by:

    1. Andrew Dickens, 2020. "Understanding Ethnic Differences: The Roles of Geography and Trade," Working Papers 1901, Brock University, Department of Economics.
    2. Joseph Flavian Gomes, 2020. "Linguistic Fractionalization and Health Information in Sub-Saharan Africa," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 34(Supplemen), pages 20-25.
    3. Fenske, James & Kala, Namrata, 2017. "Linguistic Distance and Market Integration in India," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 331, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    4. Andrew Dickens, 2017. "Ethnolinguistic Favoritism in African Politics," Working Papers 1702, Brock University, Department of Economics.
    5. Adelaide Baronchelli & Alessandra Foresta & Roberto Ricciuti, 2020. "The Words That Keep People Apart. Official Language, Accountability and Fiscal Capacity," CESifo Working Paper Series 8437, CESifo.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Ethnic distance; Ethnic diversity; Ethnic networks; Child mortality; African development;

    JEL classification:

    • I14 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health and Inequality
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • Z10 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - General
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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