Inequality and governance in unstable democracies – the mediating role of trust

This project is implemented by a consortium led by Institute of Development Studies (IDS). As a core partner, UNU-WIDER will lead the Mozambique case study.

Understanding how global rises in inequality are affecting governance regimes across the world is a critical question to the social sciences today. However, knowledge about the causal effects of inequality on governance is surprisingly limited. Where this evidence exists, it is restricted to a handful of advanced democracies. This project will provide new theory and empirical evidence on the relationship between inequality and governance and how social trust and trust towards institutions shapes this relationship in contexts where democratic structures may be unstable or under threat.

Trust is central to understanding the effects of inequality on governance because the way people have confidence in others and beliefs about the legitimacy of governance institutions shape political and social behaviour and mobilisation patterns among different groups.

The project focuses on three countries – Colombia, Mozambique and Pakistan – where democratic institutions have faced considerable challenges, including violence at times. Comparisons will be made with Spain, a country where democracy is well established, but where recent economic pressures have increased social tensions. The project will develop new theory and collect new comparative data using individual-level surveys, behavioural experiments and archival data to better understand how inequalities and trust have evolved across time to shape the governance outcomes we observe today.

Key questions
  • How do different forms of trust change and relate to each other in contexts of rising or persistent inequalities?
  • What intervening factors determine how trust in unequal contexts shapes governance outcomes?
  • What are the pathways through which changes in such intervening factors may sometimes result in inclusive democracy but in the breakdown of governance at other times?
Mozambique case study 

In the Mozambique case we explore how past inequalities shape present-day outcomes in a range of domains. As a first step, we will investigate the relationship between political participation and socio-economic inequalities. This involves matching detailed voting behavior to the full census data from 1997 and 2007. We will also review the legacy of labour coercion on different aspects of trust, including willingness to contribute to public goods. This will involve the collection of new data and application of behavioural games. The Mozambique case is run by UNU-WIDER as part of the Inclusive Growth in Mozambique programme.

Project governance

The project is implemented by a consortium led by Institute of Development Studies (IDS). UNU-WIDER a core partner in the project and will lead the Mozambique case study. Other partner organisations, also included in the project steering committee, include Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS), International Security and Development Center (ISDC), Universidad de los Andes, University of Essex, University of Oxford and Georgetown University.

Watch this space

All papers, data, opinion pieces and opportunities to engage relating to this project will be available on this web page.

UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The research will address SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and how it is affected by SDG 10: Reduced inequalities.


Main subject

Theme: 2019-23, Transforming states