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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. People begin the transition to adulthood when they leave the families in which they grew up (Marini 1984; Shanahan 2000), and joining the military may be one institutional route to do so.

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Funding

Funding was provided by Marguerite Casey Foundation.

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Correspondence to Alair MacLean.

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MacLean, A. A Few Good Men and Women: Gender, Race, and Status in the Wartime Volunteer Military. Popul Res Policy Rev 37, 591–613 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11113-018-9479-z

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Keywords

  • Military service
  • Inequality
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Social class
  • Socioeconomic status
  • ELS 2002