Skip to main content

Please enter a keyword and click the arrow to search the site

Bite and divide: malaria and ethnic diversity



Publishing details

Working Paper

Publication Year



In this paper we argue that malaria exposure represented a fundamental determinant of modern ethnolinguistic diversity. We conjecture that in highly malarial areas the necessity to adapt and develop immunities specific to the local disease environment historically reduced mobility and increased isolation, thus leading to the formation of a higher number of different ethno-linguistic groups. First, we conduct the analysis at a disaggregated level by creating a grid of artificial countries of 1x1 degree of size (around 110 square km at the equator) to employ as units of observation. We use a rich set of new data on ethno-linguistic diversity constructed from geolocalized maps of ethno-linguistic groups around the world at several points in history, as well as new data on historical malaria endemicity. Results point to a strong positive correlation between historical malaria endemicity and the number of ethno-linguistic groups at all levels of spatial disaggregation. In the second part of the exercise, we hypothesize that the need to exploit and preserve location-specific immunities increased endogamous marriages in areas with higher geographic suitability to malaria. In order to test the existence of this channel, we exploit current data on marriage patterns in 22 African countries, retrieved from the Demographic and Health Survey. Regressions’ results show a positive correlation between geographic suitability to malaria and the probability that an individual marries somebody from her same ethnic family.


Working Paper

Available on ECCH


Select up to 4 programmes to compare

Select one more to compare
subscribe_image_desktop 5949B9BFE33243D782D1C7A17E3345D0

Sign up to receive our latest news and business thinking direct to your inbox