Rural grievances, landholding inequality, and civil conflict

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Prominent theories stress the role of economic grievances in promoting political instability and conflict. They often point to inequality in the ownership of land as a primary source of such grievances. However, cross-national empirical studies fail to confirm a link between unequal distributions of land and civil war. These findings, I contend, stem from problems in theorizing and measuring rural inequality. This article distinguishes between the effects of total landholding inequality and the concentration of land ownership on conflict. Total landholding inequality, which includes landlessness, captures economic grievances in the countryside and is positively associated with conflict. Gini coefficients of landholding concentration capture both grievances and landowners' capacity to organize as rebels and a repressive rural elite. The relationship between landholding Ginis and conflict is shaped like an inverted "U": inequality correlates with an increasing likelihood of conflict, but as the concentration of landholdings reaches very high levels, the likelihood of conflict decreases with the formation of a small repressive class of landowners. Results of cross-national regressions-using new data on total landholding inequality and the concentration of landholdings-confirm these predictions. My findings provide evidence that landholding inequality is an important underlying cause of civil war.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)511-519
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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