Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Volkan Topalli

Second Advisor

Jeannie Grussendorf

Third Advisor

William J. Sabol

Fourth Advisor

Richard Wright


In this dissertation, I examine the relationship between horizontal inequality and violent conflict dynamics. Mass violent conflict is a debilitating social issue associated with economic deprivation, health crises, and loss of life. Scholars across various disciplines have studied its determinants. Several authors suggest the importance of horizontal inequality, or relative inequality between groups, for determining the likelihood of violent conflict. However, data limitations have prevented researchers from confidently asserting the generalizability or certainty of horizontal inequality’s potential effect on conflict. It is also possible that horizontal inequality could have an effect on the dynamics of a conflict, such as which groups become involved in conflict. However, few researchers have examined horizontal inequality’s relationship with other conflict dynamics. I fill some of these gaps by using census data to examine the relationship between horizontal inequality and 1) violent conflict occurrence, and 2) group involvement in conflict. I calculate six measures of social and economic horizontal inequality for each relevant cultural group in eight countries using census data ranging from 1971-2011, and I combine these data with existing data on political horizontal inequality. I then analyze how indicators of horizontal inequality relate to the likelihood of conflict in a given year, and the likelihood of a given group engaging in conflict. Results support the hypothesis that horizontal inequality correlates with conflict dynamics; however, the specific way in which a society is unequal affects whether conflict occurrence or group involvement are more or less likely. Just as relative inequality seems to affect conflict differently than absolute inequality, the specific factors that are unequal appear to have differential effects on conflict occurrence and group involvement. Results also suggest that horizontal inequality does not just affect conflict, but also conflict dynamics. It seems the relationship between horizontal inequality and conflict dynamics could be more complex than previously thought. Further attention should be dedicated to pursuing additional data and studying this topic. Policy implications include that reducing social, political, and economic inequality between groups might help mitigate violent conflict, and that ameliorating the most pernicious forms of inequality might have the most significant effect.