“Who Serves in the US Military?” Heritage Foundation

Recruits "Who serves in the active-duty ranks of the U.S. all-volunteer military? Conventional wisdom holds that military service disproportionately attracts minorities and men and women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many believe that troops enlist because they have few options, not because they want to serve their country. Others believe that the war in Iraq has forced the military to lower its recruiting standards.

Previous Heritage Foundation studies that examined the backgrounds of enlisted personnel refute this interpretation.  This report expands on those studies by using an improved methodology to study the demographic characteristics of newly commissioned officers and personnel who enlisted in 2006 and 2007."  Heritage


I was at a conference at NYU yesterday.  This was at the "Center on Lawand Security" in the law school.  This paper was presented by one of the authors.  I thought it was so interesting as a corrective that I would recommend it to you. I have included a site for Vietnam era statistics as a comparison.  pl



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18 Responses to “Who Serves in the US Military?” Heritage Foundation

  1. Charles I says:

    Well,I stand corrected then, but that’s what you’re here for. Thanks.
    As the study doesn’t go back to before the start of the Iraq war, and notes that “the quality of enlisted troops has increased since the start of the Iraq war” I’m curious about similar prewar/peacetime data.
    Although it is called the Long War. . .

  2. The Twisted Genius says:

    I can’t offer any scientific studies, but I can relate my experiences in the “hollow Army” days of 1976 to 1980 as an oh so young lieutenant in the 35th Infantry. My rifle platoon was severely undermanned, never more than 26 strong. My men were about evenly divided among black, white and hispanic (mostly Mexican). Most of the enlisted men were in G.E.D. classes when we were not in the field. Several actually enlisted when given the opportunity by a judge to avoid jail time. The NCOs were mostly Vietnam combat veterans with at least a high school education. One squad leader had a BA in psychology. There was never any serious racial tensions. There were more dope smokers than not. Being in Hawaii where the pakalolo grew wild and tall didn’t help matters.
    This platoon was a little rough around the edges in garrison… oh Hell, they were often a freakin’ nightmare in garrison. However, they were fantastic soldiers in the field. They showed the drive, intelligence, initiative, teamwork and fieldcraft skills that would be the envy of any Army. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that these men would have fought gallantly to defend our Nation if called to do so. To this day, I am damned proud to have had the opportunity to lead and learn from these soldiers.

  3. joel hanes says:

    Why would anyone believe “research” conducted by the axe-griders of The Heritage Foundation?

  4. Curious as to the availabily to the public of ALL internal DOD studies on this issue? Also what are percentages of fourth quartile of equivalent to AFQT test I took as draftee over last 5 decades and non-HS? That might be interesting? What percentage of NON-US citizens are in US Armed Forces since 1950? Too far back will I firmly believe that no statistics are valid that don’t measure the military against the military pre-1973 when draft ended! Why we might well need a draft again to support the “Empire”!hrutiU bcntuih

  5. Fred says:

    Accurate and timely information are critical to good decision making, yet this study creates a methodology to meet a pre-conceived idea. i.e. troop ‘quality’ has increased. The study starts with a premise, “A soldier’s demographic characteristics are of little importance in the military, which val¬ues honor, leadership, self-sacrifice, courage, and integrity—qualities that cannot be quantified.” Which they then violate by defining … “Based on an understanding of the limitations of any objective definition of quality, this report com¬pares military volunteers to the civilian population on four demographic characteristics: household income, education level, racial and ethnic back¬ground, and regional origin.”
    By this standard Sgt. York had a pretty low ‘quality’ as a recruit. Furthermore, just how does the Heritage foundation define ‘honor’? Hopefully giving speeches to the U.N. about non-existent yellowcake and various other non-existent rationale to justify a war are not their idea of either honor or integrity.

  6. Andy says:

    So are you suggesting we can all safely ignore research conducted by organizations we don’t like?

  7. DW says:

    There’s a major problem with the study. They don’t have data on the individuals who enlisted – they’re extrapolating from the characteristics of enlistees’ neighborhoods. You’ve got a classic example of the ecological fallacy – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_fallacy.
    As for not trusting the Heritage Foundation – Heritage was deliberately established to provide support for conservative political positions. If anyone can point me to a Heritage study that doesn’t back the conservative political position, I’ll take their studies seriously but not until then.
    I’m not saying the quality of recruits is low – simply requiring a high school diploma provides quality control – I ‘m just saying I really don’t trust this study.

  8. Andy says:

    I don’t know about the other services, but most demographic data on the Air Force is publicly available here. There are some premade reports, or you can perform your own queries.
    For some reason, OPM recently directed that some data be restricted on ethnicity, handicap and age. I’m not sure why. My wife used to do personnel analysis and she says that one problem with racial demographic statistics is due to increasing numbers of people who report “other” – which now constitutes a non-trivial number.
    You can, though, query the Air Force database to see how many personnel are not US citizens, but the dataset only goes back to 1994.
    Most of what is in the Heritage analysis is not particularly surprising. The military, because of minimum standards on health, degrees, criminal records, drug use, etc. actually discriminates against many with disadvantaged backgrounds. This really isn’t anything new – it’s just surprising to me that the meme of “poor” people being forced into military service still has legs.

  9. Andy says:

    Extrapolation is a valid criticism. Unfortunately, it is necessary because the military does not collect such detailed background on its members and surveys of military members are usually not possible. I’m not sure how to get around this problem.

  10. Pat Lang,
    I scanned it, but a couple of things jumped out. First, defining affluence as at or around the median family income ($50,400)is absurd. I can provide an interesting statistic. Median family income between 1967 and 2007 in constant 2007 dollars increased by 29%, about .7% per annum. Compare that to the increases in education, houses, cars, etc. I feel confident in saying that high school graduates in this part of the country, Northern Michigan, coming from familiies whose income is at and above $50,00 a year are not affluent and certainly not upper middle class, defining class in terms of income.
    I think a family would have to be in the 90th or even 95th percential in order to be considered affluent and upper middle class. Thus, choices are quite limited and enlistment is a realistic financial decision for many and, I would say, for a large majority. That is not to say that feelings of patriotism are not factors, as they would be for the “less desirable” income groups.
    The authors of the study stated assumptions as facts when referring to the quality of soldiers and officers having a positive correlation to family income.
    All in all I’m fairly suspicious of the conclusions.

  11. rjj says:

    This really isn’t anything new – it’s just surprising to me that the meme of “poor” people being forced into military service still has legs.

    What can you conclude about economic need from census tract median incomes that are not adjusted for:
    1. family size (median for census tract would do)
    2. area cost of living index (zip code)
    3. debt (source?)
    WRT 3. self-inflicted poverty is still poverty from the perspective of the kid who has to go out and seek his/her fortune.

  12. Cold War Zoomie says:

    All sorts of people join for all sorts of reasons.
    That’s my conclusion after spending a few decades hanging around these military types in a variety of roles.
    I can only speak for the Air Farce, but I do see a degradation in performance compared to my years. Yes, there is always the problem with the “back in my day we did it better” syndrome, especially for nostalgic people like me. After spending the last few weeks running around from base to base in both the US and overseas, though, it’s obvious there are lots of us “old-timers” who agree: they aren’t getting the job done as well as a few decades ago. So it’s not just me being nostalgic. Plus, the nuke mishaps are proof enough.
    Some retired Army folks I work with regularly have been grumbling along the same lines about the Army, so I suspect things aren’t quite as good there either.
    This would be a leadership issue, though, not a “quality of the troops” problem. We are going through a severe leadership/management crisis in this country, and it has bled over into the military.

  13. Richard Armstrong says:

    The problems is not who volunarily joins the military, the problem is that we no longer have a draft.
    (Please spare me the arguments about how previous drafts were unfair, etc. We all know that a just and fairly administered draft is possible.)
    I served between 1978 and 1984. Because of an accident of the calendar I never had to register for the draft.
    The problem with an all volunteer military is that the pain of misguided executive decisions to willy-nilly go to war only affect those that have volunteered.
    A fair and just draft that selected members from all levels of society without exemptions enjoyed as those by our former Vice President (I believe he received 5?) would make the foreign adventures of the the United States very personal indeed to a very broad cross-section of America.
    Why don’t we see massive demonstrations against our foreign interventions in the Middle East? Because Johnny the freshman at MIT knows he doesn’t have to face going “over there”.
    If the children of the oligarchy that rule this nation faced being drafted and sent to foolish wars, I truly believe we would see fewer foolish wars.
    Grenada? Really? That was necessary?
    Panama? Really? That was necessary?
    Kosovo? Really? Wasn’t that a European problem.
    Iraq? Need I say more?

  14. joel hanes says:

    Andy :
    > So are you suggesting we can all safely ignore research conducted by organizations we don’t like?
    Not at all. I’m suggesting it’s good policy to be suspicious of research conducted by parties with a vested interest in the outcome, and I’m saying that it’s only prudent to discount the testimony of those who have repeatedly lied to you in the past.

  15. Andy says:

    Most organizations who do this kind of wonkish research have some kind of vested interest and it’s not surprising that research conducted by those organizations tend to support their viewpoints. In the end it’s best to examine the research itself for flaws instead of making assumptions based on one’s perceptions of the organization that sponsored it. If obvious bias affects the research then the only way that bias can be discovered is by actually examining the research. As Col. Lang has often said on this blog, one can and should examine information separately from source.
    I’m not sure what project 100,000 has to do with anything considering that was four decades ago and no one who was in the military then is in the military now.
    Ok, let’s assume for a minute this report is so completely flawed that conclusions cannot be drawn from it. Where does that leave us? It leaves us with the fact that military recruitment and retention is discriminatory and that discrimination mostly affects the poor and those with the least opportunity. For example, two of the biggest poverty indicators are a lack of a high school diploma and single parenthood – both conditions that prevent military service. The assertion that poor people are forced into the military is, at best, unproven since the military “standards” for employment are more stringent than for most employers.

  16. Bill says:

    Why is there a higher proportion of Southerners under arms? As a Tarheel (by birthright, not by diploma), I would suggest it’s because of our old-fashioned, local values of chivalry, religion, ancestor worship, and militarism (all good in my book). Or are we just impoverished, poorly educated, barefoot cannon fodder? [NB My low- to middle-class family has been in the South since the mid-1700s, and has had at least one military man per generation. I was not one of them, however, and I look back and sorely regret it.]

  17. rjj says:

    mj, it was andy’s post.

  18. rjj says:

    Andy, I don’t get discriminatory. Is clerking in a convenience store discriminatory?
    Also I don’t quite follow the argument which seems to be: most dropouts and unwed moms are poor. They can’t get into the military therefore, economic need is not a factor in recruitment and retention?

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