Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Working Paper Series,
Research Institute of Industrial Economics

No 965: Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight? Socioeconomic Representativeness in the Modern Military

Andrea Asoni () and Tino Sanandaji ()
Additional contact information
Andrea Asoni: Charles River Associates, Postal: Washington DC and Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN)Stockholm, Sweden
Tino Sanandaji: Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN), Postal: P.O. Box 55665, SE-102 15 Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract: Historically, the American armed forces were disproportionally drawn from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. A transition toward a smaller and more selective military has changed this tendency. Since the armed forces do not gather data on recruits’ family income, previous studies relied on geographic data to proxy for economic background. We improve on previous literature using individual-level data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 and study population representativeness in the years 1997–2011. We find that recruits score higher than the civilian population on cognitive skill tests, and come from households with above average median parental income and wealth. Moreover, both the lowest and highest parental income categories are under-represented. Higher skill test scores increase enlistment rates from lower- and middle-income families while decreasing them for high income families. The over-representation of minorities in the military has declined in recent decades. Non-Hispanic White casualties are now over-represented in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Keywords: Military service; Occupational choice; Human capital

JEL-codes: H41; J18; J24

41 pages, First version: May 27, 2013. Revised: December 16, 2014.

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