Drawing on a new dataset of 4000 foreign fighters who joined the Islamic State from 2012 to 2014, this paper investigates the socio-economic profiles of international IS volunteers by comparing them with relevant populations in their countries of origin. Confirming previous research about Islamist radicals, we find that IS foreign fighters are more educated than their peers, albeit with considerable variation across countries. For a sub-set of countries, we use data on IS members’ education, professional background, and the relationship between the two, to assess two socio-economic hypotheses of radicalization: low opportunity costs and relative deprivation, two concepts that researchers have struggled to empirically distinguish to date. We find qualified support for relative deprivation.
Steffen Hertog is an associate professor of comparative politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His research interests include Gulf politics, Middle East political economy, political violence and radicalization and he has published in journals such as World Politics, Review of International Political Economy, Comparative Studies in Society and History, European Journal of Sociology and International Journal of Middle East Studies. His book about Saudi state-building, “Princes, Brokers and Bureaucrats: Oil and State in Saudi Arabia” was published by Cornell University Press in 2011. He is the co-author, with Diego Gambetta, of “Engineers of Jihad: the Curious Connection between Violent Extremism and Education” (with Princeton University Press 2016).