NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Terrorism Fueled by the Educated and the Privileged

January 22, 2004

There is a belief promulgated by the media that terrorism abroad can be reduced through financial aid and educational assistance. In fact, this view has been shared by many prominent individuals, including the likes of President George W. Bush and former Vice President Al Gore, say economists Alan B. Krueger and Jitka Maleckova.

Their research appears to counter this popular perception. Through an examination of terrorist organizations in North America, Europe and the Middle East, the researchers found that there is little evidence supporting poverty as a cause for terrorism. In fact, it appears quite the opposite is true. Among their findings:

  • For every 30 percent increase in the poverty rate, there was an associated 10 percent reduction in Hezbollah participation.
  • Close to 60 percent of Palestinian suicide bombers have attended college or have acquired university degrees.
  • Over the last two decades, Hezbollah membership has been disproportionately more educated than the regular Lebanese population.
  • Between 1966 and 1976, two-thirds of more than 350 terrorists from across Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East had some form of university training or an undergraduate degree.

Moreover, a survey in the Gaza Strip and West Bank suggests that affluent individuals are more likely to be sympathetic to terrorist activities. The researchers suggest that terrorism, as a violent form of political engagement, attracts educated individuals from privileged backgrounds, partly because such an involvement requires some degree of expertise, commitment and interest.

Ultimately, the study concludes that terrorism is more likely to be a political, rather than economic phenomenon.

Source: Alan B. Krueger and Jitka Maleckova, "Education, Poverty and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?" Journal of Economic Perspectives, Volume 17, Number 4, Fall 2003.


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