The heterogeneous effect of diversity: Ascriptive identities, class and redistribution in developed democracies

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The current consensus among comparative political scientists postulates that diverse democracies redistribute less than do homogeneous ones. However, whereas homogeneous democracies do redistribute more on average, diverse democracies exhibit high variation in redistributive outcomes. Why does ascriptive heterogeneity stifle redistribution in some cases but not in others? In this article, it is argued that diversity undermines redistributive outcomes when identity groups differ more starkly in their income levels. More importantly, under these conditions, the policy outcomes are not uniform: rather than general cutbacks, richer groups selectively under-prioritise benefits and access for poorer, minority-heavy groups while keeping their own redistributive interests protected. The result is not simply less redistribution aggregately, but a more exclusionary and regressive welfare state that prioritises the special needs of better-off identity groups. Empirical support is found in these hypotheses using macro-comparative panel data on multiple redistributive aspects in 22 developed democracies in the years 1980–2011. The article thus outlines a conditional and more nuanced relationship between diversity and redistributive outcomes than commonly assumed, as well as several broader lessons for research of identity politics and social policy.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Research
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • cleavages
  • comparative politics
  • developed democracies
  • ethnicity
  • social policy


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