Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

First Advisor

Bloom, Stephen


AN ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION OFKimberly Noel Turner, for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Political Science, presented on June 9, 2021, at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. TITLE: EDUCATION BULGES AND MASS PROTEST: HOW HIGHER EDUCATION INFLUENCES PROTEST ONSET AND OUTCOMESMAJOR PROFESSOR: Dr. Stephen BloomCan trends in higher education attainment explain protest onset and outcomes? Beneficial state development indicators, such as education attainment, may produce detrimental employment outcomes. Nonviolent protests spread throughout the developing world throughout the 2010s, often in countries previously immune to public agitation. At the forefront of these protests were well-educated professionals, often doctors and lawyers. Why did these protests emerge? Why did middle-class groups initiate and lead these protests? How successful were these protests? The education bulge theory provides a framework for explaining the onset and outcomes of nonviolent mass protests in repressive countries. The education bulge theory captures the formation of skilled labor grievance and the spillover that influence the emergence of nonviolent, large and diverse protests. Chapter Two details the education bulge theory. Education bulges occur when a country undergoes sharp increases in university enrollments exceeding global averages. As university graduates increases, so does the supply of skilled labor. An increasing percentage of the population is then impacted when demand for skilled labor wanes, i.e. skills downgrading. Skills downgrading worsens the relative position of university graduates to other educational attainment groups, increasing tertiary unemployment and underemployment. Skilled labor compensates by downshifting, seeking out and competing for positions within the semi-skilled job market. This increased competition for semi-skilled positions pushes other educational groups down and out of the labor market. The global forces of labor polarization, education bulges, and skills downgrading are examined for their roles in inducing downshifting behavior. The fomentation of grievance amongst skilled labor is detailed, as well as the spillover effects for semi and unskilled labor. Flattening supplies of knowledge-intensive positions within the private sector along with public sector hiring reductions in the post-recession period exacerbates the decline of skilled labor’s relative position. Chapter Three examines objective measures of skilled labor’s relative position to other education attainment groups. Alongside theories of economic development and inequality, the education bulge theory is tested for its relationship to protest onset. Governmental expenditures on education, relative unemployment amongst primary, secondary and tertiary education attainment groups, and average wage growth are evaluated for their relationship with education bulges and protest onset. Bivariate and multivariate regression analysis indicate that skills downgrading is significantly increases the odds of protests emerging in highly repressive countries. Under an education bulge, additional governmental spending on tertiary education is positively correlated to protest onset. Do education bulges contribute to the overall successfulness of protests? In Chapter Four, I develop a new cost-benefit approach to measuring protest success. Canonical binary measurement of protest success fails to capture the relative concessions demonstrators might extract from their regimes. I develop a 21-point scale capturing the dimensions of gains protests might achieve (in the form of regime concessions) and the costs they pay for those concessions (in the form of state reprisals). Using Mokken scale analysis, country success scores pinpoint a protest’s position along a unidimensional continuum of abject failure to transformative changes in the body politic is developed. My measure offers an improved method of capturing regime behavior in the form of ‘ignoring’ and active repression. My measure also captures instances where protests may be misclassified as failures and features a stronger correlation for crowd age diversity. However, the success scores and binary measures often share directionality and strength for key causal factors. Thus, I cannot claim a definitive victory for my measure. However, unlike binary measures, my measure is able to offer more accurate confidence intervals for interactive relationships evaluated in Chapter Five. Chapter Five evaluates the relationship between political contexts and protest features. Entrenched leadership and repressive state structures are traditional deterrents to protest success. Education bulges, leadership tenure, and state repressiveness are evaluated for their influence on protest successfulness. Education bulges are found to increase overall protest successfulness. Education bulges are also found to increase crowd size and crowd diversity. Interactive relationships between education bulges, crowd size, and class diversity are examined. Class diversity and education bulges are individual have a positive and significant influence upon protest success. Education bulges are found to moderate class diversity, shifting class diversity’s effect on protest success from positive to negative. Regime concessions and protest successfulness are also influenced by external factors, such as sanctions, defections, and audience sympathy. External actors are more likely to apply reputational, material or defection costs against regimes when protests occur within education bulges and feature class diversity. These costs act as mediators of regime responsiveness. Under a mediated moderation model, the direct and indirect effect of education bulges, crowd size, class diversity, and regime costs are evaluated for their effect on protest successfulness. Education bulges increase reputational costs for regimes while class diversity increases material costs. Crowd size increased both material costs and defections. Education bulge contexts producing diverse and large crowds are more successful than non-education bulge protests. This study offers an examination of the role of higher education attainment upon the emergence and successfulness of nonviolent mass protests in authoritarian states from 2005-2013. Despite data limitations, robust findings indicate that education bulges increase the odds of a stable repressive regime experiencing protest onset and protest success. Failure of central governments to ensure commiserate employment for their growing pools of skilled labor increases grievance, crowd sizes and diversity, and punitive action against governments seeking to repress demonstrators.

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