We propose that relative economic backwardness contributes to the build-up of social tension and non-violent and violent conflict. We test our hypothesis using data on organized mass movements and armed civil conflict. The findings show that greater economic backwardness is consistently linked to a higher probability of onset of violent and especially non-violent forms of civil unrest. We provide evidence that the relationship is causal in instrumental variables estimations using new instruments, including mailing speeds and telegram charges around 1900. The magnitude of the effect of backwardness on social tension increases in the two-stage least-squares estimations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)482-516
Number of pages35
JournalThe Scandinavian Journal of Economics
Issue number2
Early online date8 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • economic backwardness
  • economic development
  • conflict
  • social tension
  • IV estimation
  • Conflict
  • instrumental variables estimation

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