Do working men rebel? insurgency and unemployment in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Philippines

Eli Berman, Michael Callen, Joseph H. Felter, Jacob N. Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations

Abstract

Most aid spending by governments seeking to rebuild social and political order is based on an opportunity-cost theory of distracting potential recruits. The logic is that gainfully employed young men are less likely to participate in political violence, implying a positive correlation between unemployment and violence in locations with active insurgencies. The authors test that prediction in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Philippines, using survey data on unemployment and two newly available measures of insurgency: (1) attacks against government and allied forces and (2) violence that kill civilians. Contrary to the opportunity-cost theory, the data emphatically reject a positive correlation between unemployment and attacks against government and allied forces (p <.05 percent). There is no significant relationship between unemployment and the rate of insurgent attacks that kill civilians. The authors identify several potential explanations, introducing the notion of insurgent precision to adjudicate between the possibilities that predation on one hand, and security measures and information costs on the other, account for the negative correlation between unemployment and violence in these three conflicts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)496-528
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Volume55
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations

Keywords

  • Insurgency
  • opportunity costs
  • rebel recruitment
  • unemployment

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