June 29, 2016

IZA WoL Report: Job programs with ex-combatants do not reduce rebellion

A new report just published on IZA World of Labor shows that employment programs with ex-combatants and at-risk youth have improved their livelihoods, but not their support for non-violence and respect for law

Approximately two billion people currently live in conflicted and fragile states. Many aid programs in these states are motivated by the idea that increasing formal employment opportunities will lure the perpetrators of civil violence away from rebel groups. The economic theory underlying these measures assumes that rebels, like criminals, are motived by material gain. According to a new report by economist Michael L. Gilligan of New York University, this theory fails to take account of psychological, social, and political dimensions.

Gilligan cites recent research conducted in a number of countries including Irak, Afghanistan, Liberia and Burundi showing that empirical support for a positive link between unemployment and rebellion is weak. Studies find that re-integration programs have a positive effect on beneficiaries’ livelihoods, but no effect on former rebels’ social or political integration. Gilligan sees the reason for this weak link in the fact that rebel groups provide security and social benefits that formal employment does not offer, e.g. a sense of belonging, camaraderie, and of contributing to an important and worthwhile cause. Gilligan’s theory is confirmed by the fact that recent programs addressing the psycho-social reasons for participating in rebel groups, such as the need to contribute to an important cause greater than oneself, have shown promise in field trials and have resulted in sustained reductions in crime and violence.

Gilligan urges policymakers to recognize that civil unrest is not primarily an economic problem. It is also a psychological, social, and political problem. Policymakers must also keep in mind that people may turn to illegitimate organizations for protection when the state is unable to provide it. Thus policies must be designed to address issues of security as well as these other economic and social issues.

Media Contact: Please contact Anna von Hahn for more information or author interviews: Anna.Vonhahn@bloomsbury.com or +44 (0)7852 882 770

Notes for editors:

  • IZA World of Labor (http://wol.iza.org) is a global, freely available online resource that provides policy makers, academics, journalists, and researchers, with clear, concise and evidence-based knowledge on labor economics issues worldwide.
  • The site offers relevant and succinct information on topics including diversity, migration, minimum wage, youth unemployment, employment protection, development, education, gender balance, labor mobility and flexibility among others.
  • Established in 1998, the Institute for the Study of Labor (www.iza.org) is an independent economic research institute focused on the analysis of global labour markets. Based in Bonn, it operates an international network of about 1,300 economists and researchers spanning more than 45 countries.