Human Capital and the Productivity of Suicide Bombers

Published in: Journal of Economic Perspectives, v. 21, no. 3, Summer 2007, p. 223-238

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2007

by Efraim Benmelech, Claude Berrebi

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This paper studies the relation between the human capital of suicide bombers and the outcomes of their suicide attacks. The authors argue that human capital is an important factor in the production of terrorism and that if terrorists behave rationally, they should observe that more able suicide bombers are assigned to more important targets. To validate the theoretical predictions and estimate the returns to human capital in suicide bombing, they use a unique dataset detailing the biographies of Palestinian suicide bombers, the targets they attack, and the number of people that they kill and injure. The authors' empirical analysis suggests that older and more educated suicide bombers are being assigned by their terror organization to more important targets. They find that more educated and older suicide bombers are less likely to fail in their mission and are more likely to cause increased casualties when they attack.

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