Revisiting the Economics and Terrorism Nexus: Collective Deprivation, Ideology and Domestic Radicalization in the US (1948–2016)

  • Simon VaraineEmail author
Original Paper



Studies generally find no relationship between economic deprivation and terrorist activities, leading to the conclusion that economic conditions have no role in the emergence of terrorist movements. The present paper challenges this conclusion. It argues that collective deprivation affects participation into terrorism, but in different directions depending on the ideology of terrorist movements: far-right terrorism should mobilize more under times of collective deprivation while far-left terrorism should mobilize more under times of collective improvement.


I tested this hypothesis on the PIRUS database about domestic terrorists (N = 1295) in the United States from 1948 to 2016. I analysed whether the proportion of far-right (versus far-left) terrorists in a given year depends on collective deprivation in the US, operationalized through long-term recession of the income and long-term growth of inequality.


Hierarchical logistic regression analyses confirmed that far-right terrorism mobilizes more under periods of long-term economic deprivation, while far-left terrorism mobilizes more under improving economic conditions. Besides, the effect of collective deprivation appears to be of socio-tropic nature: it is especially determinant at the national level, rather than at the state or individual level. In contrast, results do not support the view that Islamist terrorism is affected by collective deprivation.


The study challenges the view that economic conditions have no role in triggering terrorist mobilization. The differential effect of collective deprivation on far-right and far-left terrorism is compatible with system-justification and backlash theories. Besides, the findings suggest that collective deprivation affects radicalization at an early phase rather than the offending phase.


Deprivation Terrorism Ideology Radicalization 



I would like to thank three reviewers for their insightful comments that greatly contributed to improving the final version of the paper. I am also very grateful to Raul Magni-Berton, Peter S. Henne, Céline Belot and Laurent Bègue for their helpful suggestions. This research is part of a Ph.D. funded by the Communauté Université Grenoble Alpes.

Supplementary material

10940_2019_9422_MOESM1_ESM.docx (159 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 159 kb)


  1. Abadie A (2006) Poverty, political freedom, and the roots of terrorism. Am Econ Rev 96(2):50–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Abrams D, Grant PR (2012) Testing the social identity relative deprivation (SIRD) model of social change: the political rise of Scottish nationalism. Br J Soc Psychol 51(4):674–689CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ahmed R (2018) Terrorist ideologies and target selection. J Appl Secur Res 13(3):376–390CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blalock HM (1967) Toward a theory of minority-group relations. Wiley, LondonGoogle Scholar
  5. Blazak R (2001) White boys to terrorist men: target recruitment of Nazi skinheads. Am Behav Sci 44(6):982–1000CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blomberg SB, Hess GD, Weerapana A (2004) Economic conditions and terrorism. Eur J Polit Econ 20(2):463–478CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boutcher SA, Jenkins JC, Van Dyke N (2017) Strain, ethnic competition, and power devaluation: white supremacist protest in the US, 1948–1997. Soc Mov Stud 16(6):686–703CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brockhoff S, Krieger T, Meierrieks D (2016) Heterogeneous terrorism: determinants of left-wing and nationalist-separatist terrorism in Western Europe. Peace Econ Peace Sci Public Policy 22(4):393–401CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bureau of Labour (2018) Labor force statistics from the current population survey. Accessed 15 Jan 2019
  10. Caruso R, Schneider F (2011) The socio-economic determinants of terrorism and political violence in Western Europe (1994–2007). Eur J Polit Econ 27:S37–S49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Census Bureau (2018) Nativity of the population, for regions, divisions, and states: 1850 to 2000. Accessed 15 Jan 2019
  12. Chermak S, Gruenewald JA (2015) Laying a foundation for the criminological examination of right-wing, left-wing, and Al Qaeda-inspired extremism in the United States. Terror Polit Violence 27(1):133–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Choi SW (2014) Economic growth and terrorism: domestic, international, and suicide. Oxford Econ Pap 67(1):157–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Clark RP (1983) Patterns in the lives of ETA members. Stud Confl Terror 6(3):423–454Google Scholar
  15. de Bromhead A, Eichengreen B, O’Rourke KH (2013) Political extremism in the 1920s and 1930s: do German lessons generalize? J Econ Hist 73(2):371–406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. della Porta D (2006) Social movements, political violence, and the state: a comparative analysis of Italy and Germany. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  17. Doty RM, Peterson BE, Winter DG (1991) Threat and authoritarianism in the United States, 1978–1987. J Personal Soc Psychol 61(4):629CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Drake CJ (1998) The role of ideology in terrorists’ target selection. Terror Polit Violence 10(2):53–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Drakos K, Gofas A (2006) In search of the average transnational terrorist attack venue. Def Peace Econ 17(02):73–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dreher A, Fischer JA (2011) Does government decentralization reduce domestic terror? An empirical test. Econ Lett 111(3):223–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Duckitt J, Fisher K (2003) The impact of social threat on worldview and ideological attitudes. Polit Psychol 24(1):199–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dustmann C, Fabbri F, Preston I (2011) Racial harassment, ethnic concentration, and economic conditions. Scand J Econ 113(3):689–711Google Scholar
  23. Ezekiel RS (2002) An ethnographer looks at Neo-Nazi and Klan groups: the racist mind revisited. Am Behav Sci 46(1):51–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Falk A, Kuhn A, Zweimüller J (2011) Unemployment and right-wing extremist crime. Scand J Econ 113(2):260–285CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Federal Bureau of Investigation (2018) Uniform crime reporting statistics—murder rate. Accessed 15 Jan 2019
  26. Feldman S, Stenner K (1997) Perceived threat and authoritarianism. Polit Psychol 18(4):741–770CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Filindra A, Pearson-Merkowitz S (2013) Together in good times and bad? How economic triggers condition the effects of intergroup threat. Soc Sci Q 94(5):1328–1345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Freilich JD, Pridemore WA (2005) A reassessment of state-level covariates of militia groups. Behav Sci Law 23(4):527–546CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Freilich JD, Adamczyk A, Chermak SM, Boyd KA, Parkin WS (2015a) Investigating the applicability of macro-level criminology theory to terrorism: a county-level analysis. J Quant Criminol 31(3):383–411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Freilich JD, Chermak SM, Gruenewald J (2015b) The future of terrorism research: a review essay. Int J Comp Appl Crim Justice 39(4):353–369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Freytag A, Krüger JJ, Meierrieks D, Schneider F (2011) The origins of terrorism: cross-country estimates of socio-economic determinants of terrorism. Eur J Polit Econ 27:S5–S16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Funke M, Schularick M, Trebesch C (2016) Going to extremes: politics after financial crises, 1870–2014. Eur Econ Rev 88:227–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gambetta D, Hertog S (2009) Why are there so many Engineers among Islamic Radicals? Eur J Soc/Arch Eur Soc 50(2):201–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ghatak S, Gold A (2017) Development, discrimination, and domestic terrorism: looking beyond a linear relationship. Confl Manag Peace Sci 34(6):618–639CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gouda M, Marktanner M (2018) Muslim youth unemployment and Expat Jihadism: bored to death? Stud Confl Terror. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Green DP, Glaser J, Rich A (1998a) From lynching to gay bashing: the elusive connection between economic conditions and hate crime. J Personal Soc Psychol 75(1):82CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Green DP, Strolovitch DZ, Wong JS (1998b) Defended neighborhoods, integration, and racially motivated crime. Am J Sociol 104(2):372–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Gries T, Krieger T, Meierrieks D (2011) Causal linkages between domestic terrorism and economic growth. Def Peace Econ 22(5):493–508CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Gruenewald J, Chermak S, Freilich JD (2013) Distinguishing “loner” attacks from other domestic extremist violence: a comparison of far-right homicide incident and offender characteristics. Criminol Public Policy 12(1):65–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Gurr T (1970) Why men rebel. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  41. Hamm MS (1994) American skinheads: the criminology and control of hate crime. ABC-CLIO, Santa BarbaraGoogle Scholar
  42. Handler JS (1990) Socioeconomic profile of an American terrorist: 1960s and 1970s. Terrorism 13(3):195–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hegghammer T (ed) (2017) Jihadi culture. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  44. Hennes EP, Nam HH, Stern C, Jost JT (2012) Not all ideologies are created equal: epistemic, existential, and relational needs predict system-justifying attitudes. Soc Cognit 30(6):669–688CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Hewitt C (2003) Understanding terrorism in America: from the Klan to Al Qaeda. Routledge, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Hogg MA (2001) A social identity theory of leadership. Personal Soc Psychol Rev 5(3):184–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Hopkins DJ (2018) The increasingly United States: how and why American political behavior nationalized. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Jasko K, LaFree G, Kruglanski A (2017) Quest for significance and violent extremism: the case of domestic radicalization. Polit Psychol 38(5):815–831CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Jensen M, LaFree G (2016) Final report: Empirical Assessment of Domestic Radicalization (EADR). National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, College ParkGoogle Scholar
  50. Jensen MA, Atwell Seate A, James PA (2018) Radicalization to violence: a pathway approach to studying extremism. Terror Polit Violence. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Jost JT, Banaji MR (1994) The role of stereotyping in system-justification and the production of false consciousness. Br J Soc Psychol 33(1):1–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Jost JT, Glaser J, Kruglanski AW, Sulloway FJ (2003) Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psychol Bull 129(3):339CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Jost JT, Napier JL, Thorisdottir H, Gosling SD, Palfai TP, Ostafin B (2007) Are needs to manage uncertainty and threat associated with political conservatism or ideological extremity? Personal Soc Psychol Bull 33(7):989–1007CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Jost JT, Becker J, Osborne D, Badaan V (2017) Missing in (collective) action: ideology, system justification, and the motivational antecedents of two types of protest behavior. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 26(2):99–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Jugert P, Duckitt J (2009) A motivational model of authoritarianism: integrating personal and situational determinants. Polit Psychol 30(5):693–719CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Kane T (2016) The decline of American engagement: patterns in US troop deployments. Economics Working Paper, 16101Google Scholar
  57. Khosrokhavar F (2015) Inside jihadism: understanding jihadi movements worldwide. Routledge, AbingdonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. King EB, Knight JL, Hebl MR (2010) The influence of economic conditions on aspects of stigmatization. J Soc Issues 66(3):446–460CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Kis-Katos K, Liebert H, Schulze GG (2011) On the origin of domestic and international terrorism. Eur J Polit Econ 27:S17–S36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Kis-Katos K, Liebert H, Schulze GG (2014) On the heterogeneity of terror. Eur Econ Rev 68:116–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Koomen W, Van der Pligt J (2015) The psychology of radicalization and terrorism. Routledge, AbingdonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Koopmans R (2015) Religious fundamentalism and hostility against out-groups: a comparison of Muslims and Christians in Western Europe. J Ethnic Migr Stud 41(1):33–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Krieger T, Meierrieks D (2011) What causes terrorism? Public Choice 147(1–2):3–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Krieger T, Meierrieks D (2016) Does income inequality lead to terrorism? CESifo Working Paper Series, No. 5821Google Scholar
  65. Krosch AR, Amodio DM (2014) Economic scarcity alters the perception of race. Proc Natl Acad Sci 111(25):9079–9084CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Krueger AB (2007) What makes a terrorist. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  67. Krueger AB (2008) What makes a homegrown terrorist? Human capital and participation in domestic Islamic terrorist groups in the USA. Econ Lett 101(3):293–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Krueger AB, Laitin DD (2008) Kto kogo?: a cross-country study of the origins and targets of terrorism. In: Keefer P, Loayza N (eds) Terrorism, economic development, and political openness, chap 5. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  69. Krueger AB, Malečková J (2003) Education, poverty and terrorism: is there a causal connection? J Econ Perspect 17(4):119–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Kurrild-Klitgaard P, Justesen MK, Klemmensen R (2006) The political economy of freedom, democracy and transnational terrorism. Public Choice 128(1–2):289–315CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. LaFree G, Jensen MA, James PA, Safer-Lichtenstein A (2018) Correlates of violent political extremism in the United States. Criminology 56(2):233–268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Li Q, Schaub D (2004) Economic globalization and transnational terrorism: a pooled time-series analysis. J Confl Resolut 48(2):230–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Lipset SM, Raab E (1970) The politics of unreason: right wing extremism in America, 1790–1970, vol 5. Harper & Row, ManhattanGoogle Scholar
  74. Lyons CJ (2007) Community (dis) organization and racially motivated crime. Am J Sociol 113(3):815–863CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. McCann SJ (2008) Societal threat, authoritarianism, conservatism, and US state death penalty sentencing (1977-2004). J Personal Soc Psychol 94(5):913CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. McCauley C, Moskalenko S (2008) Mechanisms of political radicalization: pathways toward terrorism. Terror Polit Violence 20(3):415–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. McVeigh R (2009) The rise of the Ku Klux Klan: right-wing movements and national politics. University of Minnesota Press, MinneapolisGoogle Scholar
  78. Michael G (2006) The enemy of my enemy: the alarming convergence of militant Islam and the extreme right. University Press of Kansas, LawrenceGoogle Scholar
  79. Michael G (2008) Michael Collins Piper: an American far right emissary to the Islamic World. Totalitarian Mov Polit Relig 9(1):61–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Moghadam A (2009) Motives for martyrdom: Al-Qaida, Salafi Jihad, and the spread of suicide attacks. Int Secur 33(3):46–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Morrison KR, Fast NJ, Ybarra O (2009) Group status, perceptions of threat, and support for social inequality. J Exp Soc Psychol 45(1):204–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Newman GR, Hsu HY (2012) Rational choice and terrorist target selection. In: Kumar U, Mandal MK (eds) Countering terrorism: psychosocial strategies. SAGE Publishing, IndiaGoogle Scholar
  83. Onraet E, Van Hiel A, Cornelis I (2013a) Threat and right-wing attitudes: a cross-national approach. Polit Psychol 34(5):791–803Google Scholar
  84. Onraet E, Van Hiel A, Dhont K, Pattyn S (2013b) Internal and external threat in relationship with right-wing attitudes. J Personal 81(3):233–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Parker CS, Barreto MA (2014) Change they can’t believe in: the tea party and reactionary politics in America-updated edition. Princeton University Press, PrincetonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Pauly RJ (2016) Islam in Europe: integration or marginalization?. Routledge, AbingdonGoogle Scholar
  87. Perry S, Weisburd D, Hasisi B (2016) The ten commandments for effective counterterrorism. In: LaFree G, Freilich JD (eds) The handbook of the criminology of terrorism, chap 31. Wiley.
  88. Pew Research Center (2017) US Muslims concerned about their place in society, but continue to believe in the American Dream. Accessed 15 Jan 2019
  89. Piazza JA (2006) Rooted in poverty?: Terrorism, poor economic development, and social cleavages. Terror Polit Violence 18(1):159–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Piazza JA (2017) The determinants of domestic right-wing terrorism in the USA: economic grievance, societal change and political resentment. Confl Manag Peace Sci 34(1):52–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Rickert EJ (1998) Authoritarianism and economic threat: implications for political behavior. Polit Psychol 19(4):707–720CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Robison KK, Crenshaw EM, Jenkins JC (2006) Ideologies of violence: the social origins of Islamist and leftist transnational terrorism. Soc For 84(4):2009–2026Google Scholar
  93. Rodeheffer CD, Hill SE, Lord CG (2012) Does this recession make me look black? The effect of resource scarcity on the categorization of biracial faces. Psychol Sci 23(12):1476–1478CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Russell CA, Miller BH (1977) Profile of a terrorist. Stud Confl Terror 1(1):17–34Google Scholar
  95. Sageman M (2004) Understanding terror networks. University of Pennsylvania Press, PhiladelphiaCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Sales SM (1972) Economic threat as a determinant of conversion rates in authoritarian and nonauthoritarian churches. J Personal Soc Psychol 23(3):420CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Sales SM (1973) Threat as a factor in authoritarianism: an analysis of archival data. J Personal Soc Psychol 28(1):44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Simon B, Klandermans B (2001) Politicized collective identity: a social psychological analysis. Am Psychol 56(4):319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Smith BL, Morgan KD (1994) Terrorists right and left: empirical issues in profiling American terrorists. Stud Confl Terror 17(1):39–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Smith HJ, Pettigrew TF, Pippin GM, Bialosiewicz S (2012) Relative deprivation: a theoretical and meta-analytic review. Personal Soc Psychol Rev 16(3):203–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Soule SA, Dyke NV (1999) Black church arson in the United States, 1989–1996. Ethnic Racial Stud 22(4):724–742CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Speckhard A, Akhmedova K (2006) The making of a martyr: Chechen suicide terrorism. Stud Confl Terror 29(5):429–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. START (2016) Global Terrorism Database. Accessed 29 June 2016
  104. Stenner K (2005) The authoritarian dynamic. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  105. Tausch N, Becker JC, Spears R, Christ O, Saab R, Singh P, Siddiqui RN (2011) Explaining radical group behavior: developing emotion and efficacy routes to normative and nonnormative collective action. J Personal Soc Psychol 101(1):129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  106. Torres MR, Jordán J, Horsburgh N (2006) Analysis and evolution of the global jihadist movement propaganda. Terror Polit Violence 18(3):399–421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  107. United Nations (2017) World population prospects: the 2017 revision. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population DivisionGoogle Scholar
  108. Van Dyke N, Soule SA (2002) Structural social change and the mobilizing effect of threat: explaining levels of patriot and militia organizing in the United States. Soc Probl 49(4):497–520CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  109. van Zomeren M, Postmes T, Spears R (2008) Toward an integrative social identity model of collective action: a quantitative research synthesis of three socio-psychological perspectives. Psychol Bull 134(4):504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  110. Varaine S (2018) Bad times are not good times for revolutions: collective deprivation and the mobilization level of French radical movements (1882–1980). J Community Appl Soc Psychol 28(4):258–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  111. Velez YR, Lavine H (2017) Racial diversity and the dynamics of authoritarianism. J Politics 79(2):519–533CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  112. Verwimp P (2016) Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq and the socio-economic environment they faced at home: a comparison of European countries. Perspect Terror 10(6):68–81Google Scholar
  113. WID (2017) World Wealth & Income Database. Accessed 15 Jan 2019
  114. Wiedenhaefer RM, Dastoor BR, Balloun J, Sosa-Fey J (2007) Ethno-psychological characteristics and terror-producing countries: linking uncertainty avoidance to terrorist acts in the 1970s. Stud Confl Terror 30(9):801–823CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.PACTEUniv. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, Science Po Grenoble, School of Political StudiesGrenobleFrance
  2. 2.Sciences Po GrenobleSaint-Martin-d’HèresFrance

Personalised recommendations