Deepening or Diminishing Ethnic Divides? The Impact of Urban Migration in Kenya

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



American Journal of Political Science




©2021, Midwest Political Science Association The impact of urban migration on ethnic politics is the subject of long-standing debate. “First-generation” modernization theories predict that urban migration should reduce ethnic identification and increase trust between groups. “Second-generation” modernization perspectives argue the opposite: Urban migration may amplify ethnic identification and reduce trust. We test these competing expectations with a three-wave panel survey following more than 8,000 Kenyans over a 15-year period, providing novel evidence on the impact of urban migration. Using individual fixed effects regressions, we show that urban migration leads to reductions in ethnic identification; ethnicity's importance to the individual diminishes after migrating. Yet urban migration also reduces trust between ethnic groups, and trust in people generally. Urban migrants become less attached to their ethnicity but more suspicious. The results advance the literature on urbanization and politics and have implications for the potential consequences of ongoing urbanization processes around the world.