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Cultural diversity, economic development and societal instability

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Daniel Nettle



Background. Social scientists have suggested that cultural diversity in a nation leads to societal instability. However, societal instability may be affected not only by within-nation on α diversity, but also diversity between a nation and its neighbours or β diversity. It is also necessary to distinguish different domains of diversity, namely linguistic, ethnic and religious, and to distinguish between the direct effects of diversity on societal instability, and effects that are mediated by economic conditions. Methodology/Principal Findings. We assembled a large cross-national dataset with information on α and β cultural diversity, economic conditions, and indices of societal instability. Structural equation modeling was used to evaluate the direct and indirect effects of cultural diversity on economics and societal stability. Results show that different type and domains of diversity have interacting effects. As previously documented, linguistic α diversity has a negative effect on economic performance, and we show that it is largely through this economic mechanism that it affects societal instability. For β diversity, the higher the linguistic diversity among nations in a region, the less stable the nation. But, religious β diversity has the opposite effect, reducing instability, particularly in the presence of high linguistic diversity. Conclusions. Within-nation linguistic diversity is associated with reduced economic performance, which, in turn, increases societal instability. Nations which differ linguistically from their neighbors are also less stable. However, religious diversity between, neighboring nations has the opposite effect, decreasing societal instability.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Nettle D, Grace JB, Choisy M, Cornell HV, Guegan J-F, Hochberg ME

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: PLoS ONE

Year: 2007

Volume: 2

Issue: 9

Print publication date: 26/09/2007

ISSN (electronic): 1932-6203

Publisher: Public Library of Science


DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0000929

PubMed id: 17895970


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