Legacy of war on social and political behaviour (2023)

Michal Bauer, Christopher Blattman, Julie Chytilová, Joseph Henrich, Edward Miguel, Tamar Mitts 02 July 2016

The past decade has seen rapid growth in an interdisciplinary body of research examining the legacy of war on social and political behaviour. This column presents a meta-analysis and synthesis of this research. Evidence from surveys and experiments from over 40 countries reveals a stylised fact: individual exposure to war-related violence tends to increase social cooperation, community participation, and pro-social behaviour. However, these changes are mainly directed towards people from the same community.

Nearly half of all nations in the world have experienced some form of external or internal armed conflict in the past half century. Many international development researchers and policymakers describe war as “development in reverse” (Collier et al. 2003), having persistent adverse effects on all factors relevant for development – physical, human, and social capital. Yet a long history of scholarship from diverse disciplines offers a different perspective on the legacies of war. Historians and anthropologists have noted how, in some instances, war fostered societal transitions from chiefdoms to states and further strengthened existing states (Carneiro 1970, Flannery and Marcus 2003, Tilly 1985, Choi and Bowles 2007, Morris 2014, Diamond 1999). Meanwhile, both economists and evolutionary biologists have also argued that war has spurred the emergence of more complex forms of social organisation, potentially by altering people’s psychology (Bowles 2008, Turchin 2015).

Until recently, a paucity of individual-level data from conflict and post-conflict societies prevented researchers from systematically exploring the legacies of war on social and political behaviour. In the last decade, however, interdisciplinary teams of researchers – mainly in economics, anthropology, political science, and psychology – have begun to design research projects specifically to understand how exposure to the violence of war affects collective action, fairness, cooperation, and other important aspect of social behaviour among populations around the globe.

In a new paper, we discuss and reanalyse this rapidly growing body of research (Bauer et al. 2016). Figure 1 illustrates the breadth of evidence, referencing studies involving Sierra Leone, Uganda, Burundi, the Republic of Georgia, Israel, Nepal, and many other societies. The data come from individual surveys collected in seven countries, plus one paper with comparable data from 35 European countries. This evidence covers both civil and interstate wars and includes a wide array of wartime violence experiences.

Figure 1. Evidence on wartime violence and cooperation across the world

Legacy of war on social and political behaviour (1)

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Note: The map reports the countries included in the analysis. The shading corresponds to the number of observations, such that darker colours represent larger samples of individuals.

Case study: Sierra Leone

As an example, we first describe the case of Sierra Leone, a post-conflict society for which there is an unusual wealth of evidence. A brutal, countrywide civil war afflicted Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002. The war killed more than 50,000 civilians and temporarily displaced roughly two million people—nearly half of the country’s population. Armed groups mutilated and raped thousands of civilians. Nonetheless, there was wide variation in the degree of exposure and victimisation.

Three studies from Sierra Leone identified the same essential pattern – plausibly exogenous variation in exposure to war-related violence was associated with greater social participation and prosocial behaviour. Bellows and Miguel (2009) analysed a large-scale nationally representative survey dataset gathered among more than 10,000 Sierra Leone households three to five years after the conflict’s end. Victimisation rates were high; for instance, 44% of respondents reported a household member being killed during the conflict. They found that people whose households directly experienced war violence displayed much higher levels of civic and political engagement compared to non-victims – they were more likely to report attending community meetings, to vote in elections, to join social and political groups, and to participate in school committees and ‘road brushing,’ a local infrastructure maintenance activity.

Researchers have also carried out incentivised lab-in-the-field experiments, in order to more directly assess whether war-related violence causes changes in social preferences or in beliefs about others’ behaviour. Bauer et al. (2014) ran various allocation games designed to distinguish selfishness from altruism and inequality aversion. They experimentally manipulated the identity of an otherwise anonymous recipient to shed light on whether violence increases prosocial behaviour only towards people at the local level (from the same village), or whether the effects on prosocial behaviour are more generalised. Compared to non-victims, people who were directly exposed to conflict-related violence were less selfish and more inequality averse towards in-group members eight years after experiencing war-related violence. There were no comparable effects on behaviour towards out-group members. Elsewhere in Sierra Leone, Cecchi et al. (2015) found similar results among young street football players. Players who had been exposed to more intense conflict-related violence behaved more altruistically towards their teammates (the in-group) but not towards the out-group (their match opponents).

Evidence on the effects of exposure to wartime violence

We identified 19 studies that focus on the effects of war violence on social behaviour and performed a meta-analysis of 16 of these for which original data are available. The outcome variables generally fall into six categories – social group participation, community leadership and participation, trust, prosocial behaviour in experimental games, voting, and knowledge of and interest in politics.

The evidence suggests that war affects behaviour in a range of situations (Figure 2). People exposed to more war-related violence tend to increase their social participation, by joining more local social and civic groups, or taking on more leadership roles in their communities. They also take actions intended to benefit others in experimental laboratory games, such as altruistic giving. The effects of violence are fairly consistent across cases and do not diminish with time. Violence seems to affect in-group prosocial behaviour – namely, participation with, and altruism towards, members of one’s own village or identity group – most of all (Figure 3). Too few studies define ‘out-groups’ consistently (or at all), so this in-group bias remains somewhat speculative.

Figure 2. Meta-analysis results, war exposure and cooperation

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Legacy of war on social and political behaviour (2)

Note: The effect of exposure to violence on each outcome is estimated using fixed-effects (blue) and random-effects (green) meta-analysis models. Results are reported in standard deviation units. The vertical lines denote 95% confidence intervals. N denotes the number of studies/games included in the meta-analysis for each outcome.

Figure 3. Meta-analysis results, in-group versus out-group effects

Legacy of war on social and political behaviour (3)

Disentangling correlation and causation

Notice that a common feature of this body of research is that analysis is based on a comparison of individuals who suffered different degrees of war violence. The obvious concern is the possibility that the correlation between war exposure and cooperation is driven by some omitted variable that has a confounding effect, rather than reflecting a causal impact. For instance, attackers may systematically target people who are likely to be more cooperative in nature, such as leading families or wealthy and influential citizens.

Studies in this area have taken various analytical steps to mitigate some of the most worrisome confounders – controlling for village fixed effects and thus removing potential regional and local omitted variables, controlling for an extensive set of pre-war characteristics, or estimating effects among sub-samples for which victimisation was likely to be less systematic. In the meta-analysis we show the results are relatively consistent across different studies and approaches to causal identification, arguably generating more confidence that the estimated relationships are causal.


Understanding the effects of war in all its complexity, including on post-war patterns of individual social behaviour, is of broad importance. While war has many negative legacies for individuals and societies, it appears to leave a positive legacy in terms of local cooperation and civic engagement. The core empirical finding we identify resonates with the experience of rapid post-war political, social, and economic recovery in many war-torn societies, as well as their tendency to implement egalitarian social policies, including progressive taxation and gender equality reforms (Tripp 2015, Scheve and Stasavage 2010, 2012). Yet if people become more parochial and less cooperative with out-group members, as some of the evidence suggests, this behavioural response could also harden social divisions, contribute to conflict cycles, and help explain the well-known pattern that many post-conflict countries soon return to violence.

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Bauer, M, A Cassar, J Chytilová and J Henrich (2014) “War’s enduring effects on the development of egalitarian motivations and in-group biases”, Psychological Science, 25(1): 47–57.

Bauer, M, C Blattman, J Chytilová, J Henrich, E Miguel and T Mitts (2016) "Can war foster cooperation?", Journal of Economic Perspectives, forthcoming.

Bellows, J and E Miguel (2009) “War and local collective action in Sierra Leone”, Journal of Public Economics, 93(11): 1144–57.

Blattman, C and E Miguel (2010) “Civil war”, Journal of Economic Literature, 48(1): 3–57.

Bowles, S (2008) “Being human: Conflict: Altruism’s midwife”, Nature, 456(7220): 326–27.

Carneiro, R L (1970) “A theory of the origin of the state”, Science, 169(3947): 733–38.

Cecchi, F, K Leuveld and M Voors (2016) “Conflict exposure and competitiveness: Experimental evidence from the football field in Sierra Leone”, Economic Development and Cultural Change, 64(3): 405-435.

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Choi, J-K and S Bowles (2007) “The coevolution of parochial altruism and war”, Science, 318(5850): 636–40.

Collier, P, V L Elliott, H Hegre, A Hoeffler, M Reynal-Querol and N Sambanis (2003) Breaking the conflict trap: Civil war and development policy, World Bank Publications.

Diamond, J (1999) Guns, germs, and steel: The fates of human societies, W W Norton & Company.

Flannery, K V and J Marcus (2003) “The origin of war: New 14C dates from Ancient Mexico”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(20): 11801–5.

Morris, I (2014) War! What is it good for? Conflict and the progress of civilization from primates to robots, Farrar Straus & Giroux.

Scheve, K and D Stasavage (2010) “The conscription of wealth: Mass warfare and the demand for progressive taxation”, International Organization, 64(04): 529–61.

Scheve, K and D Stasavage (2012) “Democracy, war, and wealth: Lessons from two centuries of inheritance taxation”, American Political Science Review, 106(01): 81–102.

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Tilly, C (1985) “War making and state making as organized crime”, in Bringing the state back in, Cambridge University Press.

Tripp, A M (2015) Women and power in post-conflict Africa, Cambridge University Press.

Turchin, P (2015) Ultrasociety: How 10,000 years of war made humans the greatest cooperators on Earth, Beresta Books.


How does war influence social development? ›

Armed conflict often leads to forced migration, long-term refugee problems, and the destruction of infrastructure. Social, political, and economic institutions can be permanently damaged. The consequences of war, especially civil war, for development are profound.

Is war a social or political issue? ›

War is a social political phenomenon associated with a fundamental change of the character of relations among states, peoples, nations, when confronting parties stop using nonviolent forms and methods of struggle and start to use weapons and other violent mediums directly to reach political and economic goals.

What is the role of war in nation building? ›

Victory in interstate war increases the nation's status and can produce higher payoffs by inducing people to identify nationally, investing more in state capacity.

How war affect a country? ›

Effects of war also include mass destruction of cities and have long lasting effects on a country's economy. Armed conflict has important indirect negative consequences on infrastructure, public health provision, and social order. These indirect consequences are often overlooked and unappreciated.

How does war impact society and the environment? ›

Military activity has significant impacts on the environment. Not only can war be destructive to the socioenvironment, but military activities produce extensive amounts of greenhouse gases (that contribute to anthropogenic climate change), pollution, and cause resource depletion, among other environmental impacts.

What are the main effects of war? ›

Death, injury, sexual violence, malnutrition, illness, and disability are some of the most threatening physical consequences of war, while post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety are some of the emotional effects.

What are the effects of war on society? ›

War destroys communities and families and often disrupts the development of the social and economic fabric of nations. The effects of war include long-term physical and psychological harm to children and adults, as well as reduction in material and human capital.

How is war a social problem? ›

War subverts democracy and promotes tyranny and fanaticism; kills and sickens and impoverishes people; ravages nature. War is a keystone problem, the eradication of which would make our other social problems much more tractable. Second, war is more readily solvable than many other human afflictions.

How is war a social justice issue? ›

WAR is my social justice issue. The key points regarding this issue are: war usually results from a political power struggle within a country or between countries. War involves at least two opposing governments using weapons and force to engage in a violent conflict to try to gain ruling power.

How can we develop our nation? ›

The primary objective of nation-building is to make a violent society peaceful. Security, food, shelter, and basic services should be provided first. Economic and political objectives can be pursued once these first-order needs are met.

What are the factors of nation-building? ›

According to Columbia University sociologist Andreas Wimmer, three factors tend to determine the success of nation-building over the long-run: "the early development of civil-society organisations, the rise of a state capable of providing public goods evenly across a territory, and the emergence of a shared medium of ...

What are the things you should do to make your nation better? ›

9 Little Contributions You Can Make To Make Our Country Better
  1. How Can You Contribute to the Development of Our Country?
  2. Stop littering around.
  3. Be environment-friendly.
  4. Help support a child's education.
  5. Stop participating in corruption.
  6. Be better Neighbours.
  7. Pledge to donate your organs.
  8. Donate blood.
14 Aug 2020

What are the economic effects of war? ›

But the war also greatly compounds a number of preexisting adverse global economic trends, including rising inflation, extreme poverty, increasing food insecurity, deglobalization, and worsening environmental degradation.

What are advantages and disadvantages of war? ›

Peace, love, and money are all advantages of war, but debt, death, and sadness are all disadvantages of war. Wright said "War arises because of the changing relations of numerous variables-technological, psychic, social, and intellectual. There is no single cause of war.

How war affects our economy? ›

The wars have also impacted interest rates charged to borrowers by banks and other creditors. This is the result of war spending financed entirely by debt, which has contributed to a higher ratio of national debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and subsequent rising long-term interest rates.

What are the effects of war essay? ›

War leaves unrest among people, both on the winning and losing sides. The victims are not only those who die in the war but also those who survive. The aftermath of war is so horrendous that many have to live with disabilities, not only physical but emotional, mental and even social.

How does war affect the economy positively? ›

Increased military spending can generate some positive economic benefits through the creation of employment and additional economic growth as well as contributing to technological developments. This can provide a multiplier effect which then flows on to other industries.

How does war damage the environment essay? ›

Additionally, when warfare causes the mass movement of people, the resulting impacts on the environment can be catastrophic. Widespread deforestation, unchecked hunting, soil erosion, and contamination of land and water by human waste occur when thousands of humans are forced to settle in a new area.

What are the three effects of war? ›

The short-term consequences of war are dreadful: the destruction of physical infrastructure, the weakening of economic and political institutions, and the obvious losses in human lives, among others.

What are long term effects of war? ›

Wars, as traumatic events, have brought on a specific constellation of severe, prolonged, emotional, and physical disabling symptoms, especially war-related post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), depression, and anxiety with varying symptom expressions (2, 3, 33, 38).

What is the global impact of war? ›

The ripple effects of the conflict are extending human suffering far beyond its borders. The war, in all its dimensions, has exacerbated a global cost-of-living crisis unseen in at least a generation, compromising lives, livelihoods, and our aspirations for a better world by 2030.

What is the role of war in society? ›

The function of war has been (i) to extend the area of peace, (2) to create within that area a political power capable of enforcing it, and (3) to establish an ideology which rationalizes and a cult which idealizes the new political and social order.

How does war affect people's lives essay? ›

War causes adverse losses ranging from building, mansion to the mental life, social lifetime of the individuals, particularly of the troopers as well as life itself leaving people devastated. The poor people and the low income people will suffer more during and after the effects of the war.

What happens to a country after a war? ›

In countries ravaged by war, people are displaced, infrastructure is destroyed and often entire industries are disrupted, destroying the resources that a country needs to keep its people alive. This devastation often persists even after a war is over.

What are the causes of social conflicts? ›

The causes of conflict in society are numerous and they include Intolerance, Injustice, Territorial Conflicts, Unequal Distribution of Resources, Rigidity of the law, Bad Leadership or Government, and Communication Gap.

What are the benefits of war? ›

In increasing the power of governments, war has also brought progress and change, much of which we would see as beneficial: an end to private armies, greater law and order, in modern times more democracy, social benefits, improved education, changes in the position of women or labor, advances in medicine, science and ...

Is war a moral issue? ›

A war might be ethical but the means unethical, for instance, using landmines, torture, chemicals and current debate is concerned with drones. Just War theory sets out principles for a war to be ethical. The war must be: Waged by a legitimate authority (usually interpreted as states)

What are the 4 principles of social justice? ›

There are four interrelated principles of social justice; equity, access, participation and rights.

How can social justice help fight social challenges? ›

However, some ways in which social justice could help to fight social challenges include by promoting equality and fairness, by working to end discrimination and oppression, and by ensuring that everyone has the same opportunities to thrive in society.

Why is social justice important? ›

Why Is Social Justice Important? Social justice promotes fairness and equity across many aspects of society. For example, it promotes equal economic, educational and workplace opportunities. It's also important to the safety and security of individuals and communities.

How can we make our nation great and strong? ›

Less Government more Governance. Secular Nation - A Nation should treat every religion equally. Providing protection to the minority and discriminated groups. Safeguarding Fundamental rights of the Citizens.

How do developing countries promote economic growth? ›

Policies for Economic Development
  1. Macroeconomic Stability. ...
  2. Less Restrictive Regulation and Tackle Corruption. ...
  3. Privatisation and De-regulation. ...
  4. Effective Tax Structure and Tax Collection. ...
  5. Investment in Public Services. ...
  6. Diversification away from agriculture. ...
  7. Related.
18 Nov 2019

How can students contribute to national development? ›

School children can play a role by promoting the purchase of locally produced fruits and vegetables as well as local handicrafts. This will provide direct financial assistance to those in the rural areas, eliminate middle men and eventually bring the rural population into the mainstream.

Which factors play an important role in development of nation? ›

Factors that Influence the Economic Development of a Country
  • Capital Formation: The strategic role of capital in raising the level of production has traditionally been acknowledged in economics. ...
  • Natural Resources: ...
  • Marketable Surplus of Agriculture: ...
  • Conditions in Foreign Trade: ...
  • Economic System:

What are the 5 characteristics of a nation? ›

The top characteristics of a nation are common descent, a government, a common language, geographical boundaries and common cultural practices. Today is the day you will finally discover all that you need to know about the characteristics of a nation.

What are the three challenges of nation-building? ›

Political Science-II
  • Challenges of Nation-Building.
  • Era of One-party Dominance.
  • Politics of Planned Development.
  • India's External relations.
  • Challenges to the Congress System.
  • Crisis of the Democratic Order.
  • Rise of Popular Movements.
  • Regional aspirations.
16 Oct 2019

How would I contribute to the development of my country essay? ›

Vote sensibly to choose right person. Always support Indians playing Olympics (other than cricket). Respect human beings (irrespective of their caste, creed and religion). Respect all those who fought for independence.

How can you show love to your country? ›

Embrace your country's art, culture and values. Listen to local music and watch local movies. Make it a priority to visit your own country's destinations before traveling to other countries. Youth can also teach and encourage children to love and respect their countries, in order to grow their national pride.

How can I make my country proud? ›

As a responsible citizen select the best using your vote power. Earn fame in your line of activity and get recognition to you as well as your country. Don't encourage anti nationals and corrupt people. To make our country proud it is not necessary for us to join army or win a gold medal in Olympics.

What are the social impacts of war? ›

War destroys communities and families and often disrupts the development of the social and economic fabric of nations. The effects of war include long-term physical and psychological harm to children and adults, as well as reduction in material and human capital.

How does war shape society? ›

Yet the effects of war are not only felt directly in the present day, but extend indirectly from well into the past Wars have brought about social changes such as women's suffrage, political upheavals such as the Bolshevik Revolution, or technological innovations such as the jet engine and modern air travel.

How does war affect culture? ›

Not only does war cripple the economy and politics, but on a deeper level, it taints society and forever alters the cultural identity of those people. They are forced to migrate for the sake of their safety and a better future, carrying their culture with them, but in the process altering it.

What were the social effects of World war 2? ›

New families were created as women married servicemen of other nations and moved overseas; children were born in fatherless homes as a result of demobilised troops leaving the UK to return to the US or Canada or due to a death as a result of the war; and the divorce rate spiked as many families struggled to re-adjust ...

What are advantages and disadvantages of war? ›

Peace, love, and money are all advantages of war, but debt, death, and sadness are all disadvantages of war. Wright said "War arises because of the changing relations of numerous variables-technological, psychic, social, and intellectual. There is no single cause of war.

What are the economic impacts of war? ›

Putting aside the very real human cost, war has also serious economic costs – damage to infrastructure, a decline in the working population, inflation, shortages, uncertainty, a rise in debt and disruption to normal economic activity.

What are the effects of war essay? ›

War leaves unrest among people, both on the winning and losing sides. The victims are not only those who die in the war but also those who survive. The aftermath of war is so horrendous that many have to live with disabilities, not only physical but emotional, mental and even social.

How has war benefited society? ›

In increasing the power of governments, war has also brought progress and change, much of which we would see as beneficial: an end to private armies, greater law and order, in modern times more democracy, social benefits, improved education, changes in the position of women or labor, advances in medicine, science and ...

How are we changed by war? ›

How We Are Changed by War examines our sense of ourselves through the medium of diaries and wartime correspondence, beginning with the colonists of the early seventeenth century, and ending with the diaries and letters from Iraqi war vets.

How do wars shape us? ›

War has shaped humanity's history, its social and political institutions, its values and ideas. Our very language, our public spaces, our private memories, and some of our greatest cultural treasures reflect the glory and the misery of war.

How does war destroy culture? ›

Historic buildings and places are damaged and destroyed during conflict through collateral (or accidental) impact, and historic artefacts get looted. That's war. For hundreds, if not thousands, of years, armies were paid by being allowed to loot and run riot after winning a battle.

What are social causes of war? ›

Population Change and Environmental Change. Although war is a social phenomenon arising from decisions of political and military officials, other phenomena can make it more likely that these officials will decide to go to war. These more basic causes of war include population change and environmental change.

What reasons promote a culture of war between countries? ›

Answer: There are many potential reasons, including: competition over territory and resources, historical rivalries and grievances, and in self defense against an aggressor or a perceived potential aggressor.

What was the legacy of World war 2 in relation to social policy? ›

World War II also might have shaped several other aspects of social policy such as benefit generosity, coverage, the timing of welfare legislation and the patterns of welfare provision, notably the public-private mix. Systematic comparative research in these areas is still in its infancy.

What was the political impact of World War II? ›

World War II Political Impacts: Strong National Defense

World War II led directly to the Cold War by allowing the Soviet Union to dominate Eastern Europe, which the USSR rationalized by insinuating that it needed a buffer zone against potential future hostilities.

What was the political impact of World war 2? ›

World War II transformed the United States from a midlevel global power to the leader of the “free world.” With this rapid rise in power and influence, the United States had to take on new responsibilities, signaling the beginning of the "American era."


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