A game-changing perspective on the socio-economic consequences of mass shootings, terrorism and other historical events

Posted on Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Portrait of professor Abel Brodeur

Photo credit : James Park Photo

Abel Brodeur, Associate Professor in the Department of Economics, was recently awarded the prestigious Polanyi Prize  for his research into intriguing socio-economic topics.

Brodeur’s research covers a wide range of topics—from terrorism and sex trade, to health and family planning—all through an economic lens. He looks at how historical events and socio-economic factors shape economy and labour markets and vice-versa. His work is not only useful in understanding history and its impact on local and global economy trends, but also in helping to inform policy.

In addition to his research in economics, he—as a young researcher—is also interested in research transparency and the pressure to publish

The economic causes and consequences of terrorism 

In his research on the economic causes and consequences of terror attacks and mass shootings, professor Brodeur examined data related to hundreds of violent incidents in the U.S. between 1970 and nowadays.

“I study violence and in particular how incidents such as terrorist acts and mass shootings can cause ripple effects on the economy and society,” explains professor Abel Brodeur. “These incidents are shaping the economy, our policies, and more fundamentally, are changing us.”

He found that roughly 40% of shooters were in financial distress and that 45% were unemployed or out of the labor force at the moment of the shooting, suggesting that economic distress may trigger a rise in mass shootings. These figures increase to 68% and 71% for workplace-related shootings, respectively. His findings are consistent with anecdotal evidence that most perpetrators who target workplaces were fired (or about to be fired) in the days prior to the shooting.

The data also suggests that local city or county employment and wages dropped by approximately 2% in the months and years following a terrorism or mass shooting incident. Brodeur found that terror attacks and mass shootings affect local economies through fear, anxiety and perceived uncertainty about the future. Firms invest less and local populations are generally less productive, having difficulty to return to their usual activities such as working, because of mental health impacts of tragic events.

In a recent research project, he also found that national media coverage of mass shootings exacerbates their local economic consequences. For example, a growing number of observers argue that we should not publish the shooters’ names in briefings and avoid detailed discussions of the mass shooters’ modus operandi.

Brodeur hopes his findings will lead to policy suggestions on how mass media should cover these kinds of incidents.

War, migration and the origins of the Thai sex industry

Professor Brodeur’s prize also recognizes his recent research on the socio-economic origins of the proliferation of sex workers in Thailand. Understanding the factors leading to the development of the sex industry may help to control its growth.

In this research, he and his team wanted to test whether the development of the sex industry in Thailand was related to the U.S. military presence during the Vietnam War. They combined historical records of U.S. military presence in Thailand and census estimates of the commercial sex industry to analyze the relationship with the size of the local sex industry in the early 1990s.

The researchers found that there are currently five times more commercial sex workers in districts near former U.S. bases, suggesting that districts easily reachable by U.S. servicemen during the war have become areas where a concentration of prostitution and sex-oriented businesses are found in large numbers.

In addition, findings also show that rural poverty contributed to the development of the sex industry, forcing women to migrate to red-light districts. They provide evidence that the decline in the international price of crops, such as rice, leads to an increase in the number of young women from rice producing regions migrating to prostitution neighbourhoods.

A prize in recognition of Brodeur's innovative work

Abel Brodeur's achievements as a young researcher earned him a John Charles Polanyi Prize—which are awarded each year to innovative researchers who are either continuing postdoctoral work or have recently gained a faculty appointment. 

Each winner receives $20,000 in recognition of their exceptional research and discoveries that could lead to game-changing advances in the fields of chemistry, literature, physics, economic science, physiology and medicine.  

These prestigious prizes were created in honour of Ontario’s Nobel Prize winner John C. Polanyi, who won the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

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