Friday, August 2, 2013

Who volunteers for the volunteer army?

When I was young, the Viet Nam was was underway, and the way the American army got many soldiers was by conscription. But conscription ended in 1973, the Army has been an all volunteer force since then.

One reason it's interesting to look at who American soldiers are is because of the light it might shed on other debates, such as the one about whether living kidney donors should be compensated, and what would be the likely change in the pattern of donations should the law be changed to allow that.  One concern that arises is that, if kidneys could be bought and sold, the sellers would be the poorest of the poor, in desperation.

That isn't who end up in the American Army, it turns out. Here's a 2008 report from the Heritage Foundation that casts some light on the subject. It appears that being an American soldier is a good enough job that you have to have substantial human capital to be able to qualify.

Who Serves in the U.S. Military? The Demographics of Enlisted Troops and Officers
By Shanea Watkins, Ph.D. and James Sherk

"Based on an understanding of the limitations of any objective definition of quality, this report compares military volunteers to the civilian population on four demographic characteristics: household income, education level, racial and ethnic background, and regional origin. This report finds that:
  1. U.S. military service disproportionately attracts enlisted personnel and officers who do not come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Previous Heritage Foundation research demonstrated that the quality of enlisted troops has increased since the start of the Iraq war. This report demonstrates that the same is true of the officer corps.
  2. Members of the all-volunteer military are significantly more likely to come from high-income neighborhoods than from low-income neighborhoods. Only 11 percent of enlisted recruits in 2007 came from the poorest one-fifth (quintile) of neighborhoods, while 25 percent came from the wealthiest quintile. These trends are even more pronounced in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, in which 40 percent of enrollees come from the wealthiest neighborhoods-a number that has increased substantially over the past four years.
  3. American soldiers are more educated than their peers. A little more than 1 percent of enlisted personnel lack a high school degree, compared to 21 percent of men 18-24 years old, and 95 percent of officer accessions have at least a bachelor's degree.
  4. Contrary to conventional wisdom, minorities are not overrepresented in military service. Enlisted troops are somewhat more likely to be white or black than their non-military peers. Whites are proportionately represented in the officer corps, and blacks are overrepresented, but their rate of overrepresentation has declined each year from 2004 to 2007. New recruits are also disproportionately likely to come from the South, which is in line with the history of Southern military tradition.
The facts do not support the belief that many American soldiers volunteer because society offers them few other opportunities."

HT: Volokh conspirators

1 comment:

sergedago said...

I guess that it's the last sentence which might suggest it won't be necessarily the poorest who would sell one of their kidneys. But I do not clearly see what justifies the analogy. Or is it only in order to tell us to be careful about a priori, about what it's believed to be a no-brainer?