Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 539–568 | Cite as

Veteran Status, Income, and Intergenerational Mobility Across Three Cohorts of American Men

  • Amy Kate Bailey
  • Bryan L. Sykes


Existing research linking prior military employment with labor market outcomes has focused on comparing the relative income of veterans and nonveterans. However, people who join the armed forces are uniquely selected from the broader population, and the form and direction of selectivity has shifted over time, with differential enlistment rates by race, region, and socioeconomic status. Understanding changes in the demographic composition of enlistees and veterans has significant import for the study of social mobility, particularly given changes in the occupational structure since the mid-twentieth century and wage stagnation well into the new millennium. Furthermore, labor market polarization and increases in educational attainment since WWII raise additional concerns about the social origins of military personnel and their occupational trajectories after discharge. Using data from the National Longitudinal Surveys, we investigate how social background is linked to both income and occupational mobility among veterans from three cohorts of American men: World War II, Vietnam, and the All-Volunteer Force. We find few benefits for veterans, for either income or intergenerational occupational mobility, once social background is controlled, suggesting that selection into the armed forces largely governs outcomes in the civilian labor market. Our findings have significant importance for understanding civilian labor market outcomes and trajectories of social mobility during distinct phases of military staffing.


Military Veteran Social mobility Social capital Occupational mobility 



Funding was funded by University of Washington’s Graduate School, Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, West Coast Poverty Center and Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant no: 5 T32 HD 7163-31). We are also grateful for computing support from the University of Washington's Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Criminology, Law & SocietyUniversity of California - IrvineIrvineUSA

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