Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 21 No. 3 (Summer 2007)


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Human Capital and the Productivity of Suicide Bombers

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Benmelech, Efraim, and Claude Berrebi. 2007. "Human Capital and the Productivity of Suicide Bombers." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 21(3): 223-238.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.21.3.223


This paper studies the relation between the human capital of suicide bombers and the outcomes of their suicide attacks. We argue that human capital is an important factor in the production of terrorism and that if terrorists behave rationally, we 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, we 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. Our empirical analysis suggests that older and more educated suicide bombers are being assigned by their terror organization to more important targets. We 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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Benmelech, Efraim
Berrebi, Claude


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