Northwestern Events Calendar


Comparative Politics Workshop: Avital Livny (UIUC), "Improving Ethnic Diversity Estimates using Transparent Methods"


When: Friday, February 9, 2024
12:15 PM - 1:45 PM CT

Where: Scott Hall, 212, 601 University Place, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Ariel Sowers   (847) 491-7454

Group: Department of Political Science

Category: Academic


Please join the Comparative Politics Workshop as they host Avital Livny, associate professor of political science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, for a presentation titled "Improving Ethnic Diversity Estimates using Transparent Methods"


What is the impact of diversity on politics? A number of influential studies have purported to identify the ways that ethnic diversity does (and does not) influence social processes, with many concluding that more diverse countries struggle politically and economically. But closer examination of our existing measures of diversity indicate that they may suffer from systematic measurement error, the kind that hides true statistical associations or creates phantom ones. For that reason, I argue that our existing measures of diversity threaten our ability to draw valid inferences about the true causes and consequences of diversity. As a solution, I update estimates of ethnic-group size and recalculate diversity using self-identification from cross-country multi-wave surveys, which I suggest are less prone to systematic sampling constraints and less affected by response bias and enumerator error that government statistics. At the same time, I take seriously the possibility of systematic measurement error in the survey data and use a novel database of survey-design characteristics, a large set of high-quality census results, and machine learning algorithms to identify which surveys are prone to the most error. To triangulate between surveys and censuses, and to compare these with existing diversity metrics, I create a system for linking their different ontologies, identifying synonyms and nesting structures among over 10,000 ethnic categories. Based on the ethnic self-identification of 5.6 million respondents from 1880 surveys across 161 countries between 1973-2020, my updated measure of diversity is significantly different from existing measures in an overwhelming majority of cases. Most importantly, my survey-based measure of diversity upends the well-established link between fractionalization and economic growth, indicating that the correlation is likely the result of systematic measurement error.

Avital Livny is an Associate Professor of Political Science and a Helen Corley Petit Scholar in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and previously a Junior Research Fellow at the Carlos III-Juan March Institute in Madrid. She hold a Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford and an M.Phil. in Modern Middle Eastern Studies from Oxford. Her first book, published with Cambridge University Press in 2020, is entitled Trust and the Islamic Advantage: Religious-Based Movements in Turkey and the Muslim World. It was named a 2022 Best Book by the APSA Middle East and North Africa Section.

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