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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Theory

Environmental kuznets curve

Variable relationship:

As described by Stern (2004), the Environmental Kuznets curve theory predicts that, as incomes rise (Economic Status), there will be worsening environmental conditions, but that after a certain threshold is crossed, this deterioration will slow and reverse itself, with economic development and environmental quality eventually being positively correlated (Commons Condition Trend).

The idea behind the theory is that as economies grow, tastes, technology and environmental investments also change, i.e., in favor of resource conservation. Specifically, technology (Technology Role) favors more efficient use of natural resources and therefore contributes to the maintenance of resource conditions in the long term.


Scientific Field
Component Type(s)


VariableRoleRole ExplanationValue
Economic statusProximate independent variableIncreasing economic status of commons users has a non-linear relationship with commons condition, as initial development deteriorates the environment, but then enables its protection. Thisis the case because increased economic status contributes to investments in more efficient technologies and increased environmental concerns.Increasing
Technology roleModerating independent variableMore efficient technologies contribute to resource produtivity and conservation for given levels of resource use demand.Increased productivity
Commons condition trendFinal outcomeCommons conditions initially decline as income rises, but then are predicted to improve.Worsened then improved

Related Theories

TheoryRelationshipCharacterizing Variables
Forest transition theoryrelated
Rebound effectcontradictory
Borlaug hypothesis and deforestationrelated
Poverty and resource degradationrelated

Related Studies


Stern, David I. 2004. “The Rise and Fall of the Environmental Kuznets Curve.” World Development 32 (8): 1419–1439.