The Long-Term Effects of Military Conscription on Mortality: Estimates From the Vietnam-Era Draft Lottery

Abstract

Research on the effects of Vietnam military service suggests that Vietnam veterans experienced significantly higher mortality than the civilian population at large. These results, however, may be biased by nonrandom selection into the military if unobserved background differences between veterans and nonveterans affect mortality directly. To generate unbiased estimates of exposure to conscription on mortality, the present study compares the observed proportion of draft-eligible male decedents born 1950–1952 to the (1) expected proportion of draft-eligible male decedents given Vietnam draft-eligibility cutoffs; and (2) observed proportion of draft-eligible decedent women. The results demonstrate no effect of draft exposure on mortality, including for cause-specific death rates. When we examine population subgroups—including splits by race, educational attainment, nativity, and marital status—we find weak evidence for an interaction between education and draft eligibility. This interaction works in the opposite direction of putative education-enhancing, mortality-reducing effects of conscription that have, in the past, led to concern about a potential exclusion restriction violation in instrumental variable (IV) regression models. We suggest that previous research, which has shown that Vietnam-era veterans experienced significantly higher mortality than nonveterans, might be biased by nonrandom selection into the military and should be further investigated.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For the purposes of this study, we restrict our analysis of the effects of military service to male veterans simply because during the Vietnam-era, an overwhelming majority of military personnel were men (Kulka et al. 1990).

  2. 2.

    The first draft lottery held on December 1, 1969 actually assigned all men born between 1944 and 1950 order-of-induction numbers. However, for reasons explained shortly, we deal only with the 1950–1952 cohorts.

  3. 3.

    These figures are based on calculations of the Defense Manpower Data Center Administrative Records combined with cohort size data from the Social Security Administration Continuous Work History Sample, as reported by Angrist (1990).

  4. 4.

    For data years 1989–1998, underlying cause of death is coded using the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) 9th Revision. In 1999, the NCHS began implementation of the updated ICD 10th Revision. Thus, to ensure comparability across data years, we code the underlying cause of death for all years based on the 34-category classification of the ICD-9.

  5. 5.

    The 1970 draft lottery also applied to men born between 1944 and 1949, but most of these veterans had already entered the service prior to the lottery drawing. Thus, the remaining men eligible for induction under the 1970 lottery may not constitute a representative sample as Angrist (1990) indicates.

  6. 6.

    This comparison assumes that birth dates are uniformly distributed across the calendar year, and thus any differences by lottery number are due to an eligibility effect rather than variation in fertility rates. Hence, we also use an alternate “check” using the male-female comparison, which should implicitly correct for the possibility of varying fertility rates.

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Acknowledgments

The findings and conclusions in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Research Data Center, the National Center for Health Statistics, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Correspondence to Dalton Conley.

Appendix

Appendix

Table 6.

Table 6 Coding classifications for underlying cause of death

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Conley, D., Heerwig, J. The Long-Term Effects of Military Conscription on Mortality: Estimates From the Vietnam-Era Draft Lottery. Demography 49, 841–855 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-012-0103-2

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Keywords

  • Military service
  • Vietnam draft
  • Veterans
  • Mortality
  • Health