The theory is clear. If someone has something to lose—like a solid career—then they may think twice before engaging in violence and destruction. If people from different religious sects and ethnic groups can come together in the workplace and pursue collective goals, then they’re less like to take up arms against each other.
But the evidence that well-intentioned programs to increase employment in so-called fragile states help to produce peace, unfortunately, is a little murkier.
While studies don’t outright discount theories that link economic opportunities with peace, they do suggest other important factors should be considered.
“This is a topic we’ve been looking into for years,” says Jon Kurtz, senior director of research and learning at the Mercy Corps, a nongovernmental humanitarian organization based in the United States. “We do rigorous research to try and answer these questions.”
The answer, he says, is that while a lack of jobs almost never causes war, that’s not to say economic investment doesn’t have a role to play when the guns fall silent. “Economic conditions are not a primary explainer or driver of conflict,” he says. “Poverty doesn’t make people violent, but violence does make people poor.”
The Type of Jobs Matters
That nuance is echoed by others.
“Under certain circumstances jobs can help,” says Mark van Dorp, an independent consultant who works on responsible business practices in areas affected by conflict. “But it depends on the type of jobs,” he adds. “That’s important to consider. Are they sustainable and well-paid jobs or are they just jobs from companies who are there for a short period of time? I’ve seen examples of both.”