Rising food prices, food price volatility, and social unrest

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Can food prices cause social unrest? Throughout history, riots have frequently broken out, ostensibly as a consequence of high food prices. Using monthly data at the international level, this article studies the impact of food prices-food price levels as well as food price volatility-on social unrest. Because food prices and social unrest are jointly determined, data on natural disasters are used to identify the causal relationship flowing from food price levels to social unrest. Results indicate that for the period 1990-2011, food price increases have led to increases in social unrest, whereas food price volatility has not been associated with increases in social unrest. These results are robust to alternative definitions of social unrest, to using real or nominal prices, to using commodity-specific price indices instead of aggregated price indices, to alternative definitions of the instrumental variable, to alternative definitions of volatility, and to controlling for non-food-related social unrest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalAmerican Journal of Agricultural Economics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 The Author.


  • Food Prices
  • Food Riots
  • Price Volatility
  • Social Unrest


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