NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Terrorism Not Linked To Poverty

August 22, 2002

An understanding of the causes of terrorism is essential if an effective strategy is to be crafted to combat it," say economists Alan Krueger and Jitka Maleckova. One thing they found in a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research is that there is no evidence that the cause of terrorism is poverty.

The researchers identify politically motivated violence or terrorism with hate crimes, which bear a resemblance in that "the target of the offense is selected because of his or her group identity, not their individual behavior, and because the effect of both is to wreak terror in a wider audience than those directly affected."

  • Their review of the literature found the occurrence of hate crimes is largely independent of economic conditions.
  • Furthermore, opinion polls conducted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip indicate support for violent attacks against Israel does not decrease with higher education and higher living standards.

Analyzing information on 129 members of Hezbollah who were killed primarily while involved in paramilitary actions in the late 1980s and early 1990s with a general population survey of similarly aged individuals in Lebanon, they found:

  • Education and poverty are statistically insignificant predictors of whether individuals become martyrs for Hezbollah.
  • Indeed, having a standard of living above the poverty line or a secondary-school education or higher is positively associated with participation in Hezbollah.
  • Furthermore, Israeli Jewish settlers who attacked Palestinians in the West Bank in the early 1980s were overwhelmingly from high-paying occupations.

Thus these terrorists were better educated and had higher incomes than the general populations from which they came.

Source: Editorial, "Limousine Terrorists," Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2002; Alan B. Krueger and Jitka Maleckova, "Education, Poverty, Political Violence and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?" NBER Working Paper No.w9074, July 2002, National Bureau of Economic Research.

For NBER abstract


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