In the absence of explicit punitive sanctions, why do individuals voluntarily participate in intergroup warfare when doing so incurs a mortality risk? Here we consider the motivation of individuals for participating in warfare. We hypothesize that in addition to other considerations, individuals are incentivized by the possibility of rewards. We test a prediction of this “cultural rewards war-risk hypothesis” with ethnographic literature on warfare in small-scale societies. We find that a greater number of benefits from warfare is associated with a higher rate of death from conflict. This provides preliminary support for the relationship between rewards and participation in warfare.