Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 591–613 | Cite as

A Few Good Men and Women: Gender, Race, and Status in the Wartime Volunteer Military

  • Alair MacLean


Much is known about the men who entered the US military during draft era wars and the peacetime volunteer era. Relatively less is known about those who turned 18 during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Journalists, advocates, and politicians have expressed concern that wartime volunteer service has been inequitable. Yet there is apparently only one peer-reviewed article that explores the socioeconomic characteristics of the men who came of age after the start of the recent wars, and none that evaluate how race and status of female recruits varied. To assess these questions, the following article develops a theoretical model building on the status attainment and life course traditions. It uses data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, which contains information about a national sample of people who became eligible to join the armed forces during the height of the wartime volunteer era. It does not find evidence that low-status and minority men were disproportionately likely to enlist. Indeed, those with low-status were less likely to do so, partly because they were excluded by military standards. Men were particularly unlikely to join the armed forces, however, if they grew up in high-status rather than families in the middle of the status distribution. By contrast, women were most likely to join the armed forces if they came from the lower-middle than from anywhere else in the status distribution. Minority men were no more likely than white men to enlist, but black women were disproportionately likely to join the military.


Military service Inequality Gender Race Social class Socioeconomic status ELS 2002 



Funding was provided by Marguerite Casey Foundation.


  1. Alexander, K. L., Entwisle, D. R., & Olson, L. S. (2007). Lasting consequences of the summer learning gap. American Sociological Review, 72(2), 167–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allison, R. (2011). Race, gender, and attitudes toward war in Chicago: An intersectional analysis. Sociological Forum, 26(3), 668–691.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Appy, Christian G. (1993). Working-class war: American combat soldiers and Vietnam. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  4. Associated Press. (2006). Lower standards help Army meet recruiting goal. USA Today, October 9. Retrieved August 22, 2013, from
  5. Benner, A. D., Boyle, A. E., & Sadler, S. (2016). Parental involvement and adolescents’ educational success: The roles of prior achievement and socioeconomic status. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45(6), 1053–1064.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bernstein, Iver. (1990). The New York City draft riots: Their significance for American society and politics in the age of the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Blau, Peter Michael, & Duncan, Otis Dudley. (1967). The American occupational structure. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  8. Buchmann, C., & DiPrete, T. A. (2006). The growing female advantage in college completion: The role of family background and academic achievement. American Sociological Review, 71(4), 515–541.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Buzzell, E., & Preston, S. H. (2007). Mortality of American troops in the Iraq war. Population and Development Review, 33(3), 555–566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chapman, C., Laird, J., Ifill, N., & KewalRamani, A. (2011). Trends in high school dropout and completion rates in the United States: 1972-2009 (NCES 2012-006). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.Google Scholar
  11. Congressional Budget Office. (2007). The all-volunteer military: Issues and performance. Washington, DC: U.S. Congress. Retrieved July 11, 2008, from
  12. Coy, P. G., Woehrle, L. M., & Maney, G. M. (2008). Discursive legacies: The U.S. peace movement and “support the troops”. Social Problems, 55(2), 161–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Curtis, K. J., & Payne, C. F. (2010). The differential impact of mortality of American troops in the Iraq War: The non-metropolitan dimension. Demographic Research, 23, 41–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. de Werfhorst, H. G. V., & Hofstede, S. (2007). Cultural capital or relative risk aversion? Two mechanisms for educational inequality compared. British Journal of Sociology, 58(3), 391–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Department of Defense. (2000). Population representation in the military services, fiscal year 1999. Washington, DC: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from
  16. Elder, G. H., Jr., Gimbel, C., & Ivie, R. (1991). Turning points in life: The case of military service and war. Military Psychology, 3(4), 215–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Elder, G. H., Jr., & Johnson, M. K. (2002). The life course and aging: Challenges, lessons, and new directions. In R. A. Settersten Jr. (Ed.), Invitation to the life course: Toward new understandings of later life (pp. 49–81). Amityville, NY: Baywood.Google Scholar
  18. Elder, G. H., Jr., Wang, L., Spence, N. J., Adkins, D. E., & Brown, T. H. (2010). Pathways to the all-volunteer military. Social Science Quarterly, 91(2), 455–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Elman, C., & O’Rand, A. M. (2004). The race is to the swift: Socioeconomic origins, adult education, and wage attainment. American Journal of Sociology, 110(1), 123–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fallows, J. (1975). What did you do in the class war, daddy? Washington Monthly, 7(8), 5–19.Google Scholar
  21. Gifford, B. (2005). Combat casualties and race: What can we learn from the 2003-2004 Iraq conflict? Armed Forces and Society, 31(2), 201–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Harrison, T. (2009). Impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the US Military’s Plans, programs and budgets. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.Google Scholar
  23. Jencks, C., & Phillips, M. (1998). The black-white test score gap. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  24. Kane, T. (2006). Who are the recruits? The demographic characteristics of U.S. military enlistment, 2003-2005. Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation.Google Scholar
  25. Kleykamp, M. (2006). College, jobs, or the military? Enlistment during a time of war. Social Science Quarterly, 87(2), 272–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Korb, L. J., & Duggan, S. E. (2007). An all-volunteer army? Recruitment and its problems. Ps-Political Science & Politics, 40(3), 467–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kriner, D. L., & Shen, F. X. (2010). The casualty gap: The causes and consequences of American wartime inequalities. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Leitz, L. (2011). Oppositional identities: The military peace movement’s challenge to pro-Iraq war frames. Social Problems, 58(2), 235–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lucas, S. R. (2001). Effectively maintained inequality: Education transitions, track mobility, and social background effects. American Journal of Sociology, 106(6), 1642–1690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lundquist, J. H. (2004). When race makes no difference: Marriage and the military. Social Forces, 83(2), 731–757.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lundquist, J. H. (2006). The black-white gap in marital dissolution among young adults: What can a counterfactual scenario tell us? Social Problems, 53(3), 421–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lundquist, J. H. (2008). Ethnic and gender satisfaction in the military: The effect of a meritocratic institution. American Sociological Review, 73(3), 477–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lutz, A. (2008). Who joins the military? A look at race, class, and immigration status. Journal of Political and Military Sociology, 36(2), 167–188.Google Scholar
  34. MacLean, A. (2011). The stratification of military service and combat exposure. Social Science Research, 40, 336–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. MacLean, A. (2017). Skills mismatch? Military service, combat occupations, and civilian earnings. Sociological Perspectives, 60(2), 229–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. MacLean, A., & Edwards, R. D. (2010). The pervasive role of rank in the health of US veterans. Armed Forces & Society, 36(5), 765–785.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. MacLean, A., & Elder, G. H., Jr. (2007). Military service in the life course. Annual Review of Sociology, 33, 175–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. MacLean, A., & Parsons, N. (2010). Unequal risk: Combat occupations in the volunteer military. Sociological Perspectives, 53(3), 347–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Marini, M. M. (1984). Age and sequencing norms in the transition to adulthood. Social Forces, 63, 228–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Mariscal, J. (2007). The poverty draft. Sojourners Magazine, 36, 32–35.Google Scholar
  41. National Center for Education Statistics. (2013). Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002) Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved February 18, 2016, from
  42. National Research Council. (2006). Assessing fitness for military enlistment: Physical, medical, and mental health standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  43. Palloni, A. (2006). Reproducing inequalities: Luck, wallets, and the enduring effects of childhood health. Demography, 43(4), 587–615.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Quester, A., & Shuford, R. (2017). Population Representation in the Military Services: Fiscal Year 2015 Summary Report. Arlington, VA: CNA. Retrieved March 15, 2018, from
  45. Rangel, C. B. (2002). Bring back the draft. New York Times, p. A19.Google Scholar
  46. Rostker, Bernard. (2006). I want you!: The evolution of the all-volunteer force. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.Google Scholar
  47. Sackett, P. R., & Mavor, A. S. (2003). Attitudes, aptitudes, and aspirations of American youth: implications for military recruiting. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  48. Sampson, R. J., & Laub, J. H. (1996). Socioeconomic achievement in the life course of disadvantaged men: Military service as a turning point, circa 1940-1965. American Sociological Review, 61(3), 347–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Segal, D. R., & Segal, M. W. (2004). America’s military population. Population Bulletin, 59(4), 3–40.Google Scholar
  50. Sewell, W. H., & Hauser, R. M. (1975). Education, occupation, and earnings: Achievement in the early career. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  51. Shanahan, M. J. (2000). Pathways to adulthood in changing societies: Variability and mechanisms in life course perspective. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 667–692.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Smith, T. W. (2012). Trends in Confidence in Institutions, 1973-2006. In P. V. Marsden (Ed.), Social trends in American life: Findings from the General Social Survey since 1972 (pp. 177–211). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  53. StataCorp. (2015). Stata statistical software: Release 14. College Station, TX: StataCorp LP.Google Scholar
  54. Teachman, J. D., & Tedrow, L. M. (2007). Joining up: Did military service in the early all volunteer era affect subsequent civilian income? Social Science Research, 36(4), 1447–1474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wang, L., Elder, G. H., & Spence, N. J. (2012). Status configurations, military service and higher education. Social Forces, 91(2), 397–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Warren, J. R., & Lee, J. C. (2003). The impact of adolescent employment on high school dropout: Differences by individual and labor-market characteristics. Social Science Research, 32(1), 98–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Watkins, S. J., & Sherk, J. (2008). Who serves in the U.S. Military? Demographic characteristics of enlisted troops and officers. Washington, DC: Heritage Foundation.Google Scholar
  58. Western, B. (2008). Incarceration, unemployment, and inequality. In D. B. Grusky, M. C. Ku, & S. Szelényi (Eds.), Social stratification: Class, race, and gender in sociological perspective (pp. 388–392). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  59. Wilson, T. C. (1995). Vietnam-era military service—A test of the class-bias thesis. Armed Forces and Society, 21(3), 461–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Wooldridge, J. M. (2000). Introductory econometrics: A modern approach. Cincinnati, OH: South-Western College.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Washington State University VancouverVancouverUSA

Personalised recommendations