As logical as the poverty-breeds-terrorism argument may seem, study after study shows that suicide attackers and their supporters are rarely ignorant or impoverished. Nor are they crazed, cowardly, apathetic or asocial. ...It is a mistake to view someone as acting irrationally because you don't understand his motivations. Rationality is about means, not ends. Our ends are, ultimately, beyond rationality. Why do we want to go on living rather than fight the power? Because life is sweet? Why is that? Ultimately our action is grounded in feelings that we cannot explain rationally. We must allow the possibility that other people have feelings too, similar in their motivational power, but different in the actions they motivate.
The Princeton economist Alan Krueger and others released a study in 2002 comparing Lebanese Hezbollah militants who died in violent action to other Lebanese of the same age group. He found that the Hezbollah members were less likely to come from poor homes and more likely to have a secondary school education.
Nasra Hassan, a Pakistani relief worker, interviewed nearly 250 aspiring Palestinian suicide bombers and their recruiters. "None were uneducated, desperately poor, simple-minded or depressed," she reported in 2001. "They all seemed to be entirely normal members of their families."
A 2001 poll by the nonprofit Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research indicated that Palestinian adults with 12 years or more of education are far more likely to support bomb attacks than those who cannot read.
Officials with the Army Defense Intelligence Agency who have interrogated Saudi-born members of Al Qaeda being detained at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have told me that these fundamentalists, especially those in leadership positions, are often educated above reasonable employment level; a surprising number have graduate degrees and come from high-status families. Their motivation and commitment are evident in their willingness to sacrifice material and emotional comforts (families, jobs, physical security), to travel long distances and to pay their own way.
The body of research shows that over all, suicide terrorists tend not to have the attributes of the socially dysfunctional (fatherless, friendless, jobless). They don't vent fear of enemies or express hopelessness or a sense of "nothing to lose" because of lack of a career or social mobility as would be consistent with economic theories of criminal behavior.
Rational Action - an interesting article on the social situation of suicide attackers: