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Unity in Diversity? Ethnicity, Migration, and Nation Building in Indonesia


  • Bazzi, Samuel
  • Gaduh, Arya
  • Rothenberg, Alexander
  • Wong, Maisy


Throughout history, many governments have introduced policies to unite diverse groups through a shared sense of national identity. However, intergroup relationships at the local level are often slow to develop and confounded by spatial sorting and segregation. We shed new light on the long-run process of nation building using one of history's largest resettlement programs. Between 1979 and 1988, the Transmigration program in Indonesia relocated two million voluntary migrants from the Inner Islands of Java and Bali to the Outer Islands, in an effort to integrate geographically segregated ethnic groups. Migrants could not choose their destinations, and the unprecedented scale of the program created hundreds of new communities with varying degrees of diversity. We exploit this policy-induced variation to identify the nonlinear ways in which diversity shapes incentives to integrate more than a decade after resettlement. Using rich data on language use at home, marriage, and identity choices, we find stronger integration in diverse communities. To understand why changes in diversity did not lead to social anomie or conflict, we identify mechanisms that influence intergroup relationships, including residential segregation, cultural distance, and perceived economic and political competition from migrants. Overall, our findings contribute lessons for the design of resettlement policies and provide a unique lens into the intergenerational process of integration and nation building.

Suggested Citation

  • Bazzi, Samuel & Gaduh, Arya & Rothenberg, Alexander & Wong, Maisy, 2017. "Unity in Diversity? Ethnicity, Migration, and Nation Building in Indonesia," CEPR Discussion Papers 12377, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:12377

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item


    Cultural change; diversity; identity; Language; migration; Nation building;

    JEL classification:

    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • D71 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Social Choice; Clubs; Committees; Associations
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • R23 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Regional Migration; Regional Labor Markets; Population

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