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Individual Determinants of Ethnic Identification


  • Thomas Bossuroy

    () (SALDRU, University of Cape Town, South Africa UMR DIAL-Paris-Dauphine)


This paper examines the individual incentives to identify to one's ethnic group rather than to the nation, based on large sample surveys representative of seven capitals of West-African countries. Three main driving forces stand out. First, we show that education brings down ethnic salience at the individual level, contrary to claims in the literature that it stimulates ethnic-based competition within the elite. Second, ethnic identification is more frequent among those left out of the job market, like uneducated unemployed or informal workers who seek a new or better job, and is raised by the share of the individual's ethnic group integrated on the job market. Third, ethnic identification is higher among migrants, and again positively correlated to the share of the migrant's ethnic group that is employed. These results point to the role of ethnic groups as solidarity networks for individuals deprived of access to good jobs. Ethnic identification may reflect an investment in a specific kind of individual social capital with classical economic properties. The less social capital people have initially -due to poor education or recent migration for instance- and the more they need it -to escape unemployment or bad jobs-, the more they use ethnic ties to climb the social ladder. In that sense, ethnicity appears as a substitute to the formal means of social rise, and the initial deprivation of the latter fosters individual ethnic salience. _________________________________ Ce papier examine les incitations individuelles à s’identifier à son groupe ethnique plutôt qu’à sa nation, en analysant des enquêtes à large échantillon représentatives des capitales de sept pays ouestafricains. Trois principaux facteurs apparaissent. Premièrement, l’éducation affaiblit l’identification ethnique au niveau individuel, plutôt que de stimuler une compétition à base ethnique au sein de l’élite comme évoqué parfois dans la littérature. Deuxièmement, l’identification ethnique est plus fréquente chez les individus exclus du marché du travail, comme les chômeurs non éduqués ou les travailleurs informels qui cherchent un emploi, et augmente avec la part du groupe ethnique de l’individu intégrée sur le marché du travail. Troisièmement, l’identification ethnique est plus forte chez les migrants, et est corrélée positivement avec la part du groupe ethnique du migrant qui est employée. Ces résultats révèlent le rôle des groupes ethniques comme réseaux de solidarité pour les individus privés d’accès aux emplois formels. L’identification ethnique semble refléter un investissement dans une forme particulière de capital social aux propriétés économiques classiques. Moins les individus possèdent de capital social initial (en raison d’une faible éducation ou d’une migration récente par exemple), et plus ils en ont besoin (pour sortir du chômage ou accéder à un emploi protégé), plus ils utilisent le lien ethnique pour gravir l’échelle sociale. L’ethnicité venant ainsi se substituer aux modes formels d’ascension sociale, la privation de ces derniers renforce l’importance des attachements ethniques individuels.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Bossuroy, 2011. "Individual Determinants of Ethnic Identification," Working Papers DT/2011/06, DIAL (Développement, Institutions et Mondialisation).
  • Handle: RePEc:dia:wpaper:dt201106

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Greif, Avner, 1993. "Contract Enforceability and Economic Institutions in Early Trade: the Maghribi Traders' Coalition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(3), pages 525-548, June.
    2. Fafchamps, Marcel, 1992. "Solidarity Networks in Preindustrial Societies: Rational Peasants with a Moral Economy," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 41(1), pages 147-174, October.
    3. Bates, Robert H., "undated". "Ethnicity and Modernization in Contemporary Africa," Working Papers 16, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
    4. Joel Sobel, 2002. "Can We Trust Social Capital?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(1), pages 139-154, March.
    5. Kaivan Munshi, 2003. "Networks in the Modern Economy: Mexican Migrants in the U. S. Labor Market," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(2), pages 549-599.
    6. DiPasquale, Denise & Glaeser, Edward L., 1999. "Incentives and Social Capital: Are Homeowners Better Citizens?," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(2), pages 354-384, March.
    7. repec:wly:amposc:v:48:y:2004:i:4:p:849-863 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Olken, Benjamin A., 2006. "Corruption and the costs of redistribution: Micro evidence from Indonesia," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(4-5), pages 853-870, May.
    9. Montalvo, Jose G. & Reynal-Querol, Marta, 2005. "Ethnic diversity and economic development," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(2), pages 293-323, April.
    10. Thomas Bossuroy & Denis Cogneau, 2008. "Social Mobility and Colonial Legacy in Five African Countries," Working Papers DT/2008/10, DIAL (Développement, Institutions et Mondialisation).
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    12. Banerjee, Abhijit & Somanathan, Rohini, 2007. "The political economy of public goods: Some evidence from India," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 82(2), pages 287-314, March.
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    More about this item


    Ethnicity; Identity; Social capital; Networks; Africa.;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • A14 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Sociology of Economics
    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions
    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements


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