Violence of young men diminishes when they have jobs and families

The Economist reports: In August 2014 Boko Haram fighters surged through Madagali, an area in north-east Nigeria. They butchered, burned and stole. They closed schools, because Western education is sinful, and carried off young girls, because holy warriors need wives.

Taru Daniel escaped with his father and ten siblings. His sister was not so lucky: the jihadis kidnapped her and took her to their forest hideout. “Maybe they forced her to marry,” Mr Daniel speculates. Or maybe they killed her; he does not know.

He is 23 and wears a roughed-up white T-shirt and woollen hat, despite the blistering heat in Yola, the town to which he fled. He has struggled to find a job, a big handicap in a culture where a man is not considered an adult unless he can support a family. “If you don’t have money you cannot marry,” he explains. Asked why other young men join Boko Haram, he says: “Food no dey. [There is no food.] Clothes no dey. We have nothing. That is why they join. For some small, small money. For a wife.”

Some terrorists are born rich. Some have good jobs. Most are probably sincere in their desire to build a caliphate or a socialist paradise. But material factors clearly play a role in fostering violence. North-east Nigeria, where Boko Haram operates, is largely Islamic, but it is also poor, despite Nigeria’s oil wealth, and corruptly governed. It has lots of young men, many of them living hand to mouth. It is also polygamous: 40% of married women share a husband. Rich old men have multiple spouses; poor young men are left single, sex-starved and without a stable family life. Small wonder some are tempted to join Boko Haram.

Globally, the people who fight in wars or commit violent crimes are nearly all young men. Henrik Urdal of the Harvard Kennedy School looked at civil wars and insurgencies around the world between 1950 and 2000, controlling for such things as how rich, democratic or recently violent countries were, and found that a “youth bulge” made them more strife-prone. When 15-24-year-olds made up more than 35% of the adult population — as is common in developing countries — the risk of conflict was 150% higher than with a rich-country age profile.

If young men are jobless or broke, they make cheap recruits for rebel armies. And if their rulers are crooked or cruel, they will have cause to rebel. Youth unemployment in Arab states is twice the global norm. The autocrats who were toppled in the Arab Spring were all well past pension age, had been in charge for decades and presided over kleptocracies. [Continue reading…]

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