Going to War and Going to College: Empirical Results

Going to War and Going to College: Empirical ResultsIV. Empirical Results
Before turning to our between cohort estimates, it is worth examining within cohort comparisons in educational attainment between veterans and nonveterns. Table 3 compares the educational attainment of World War II veterans to nonveterans. Using data from the 1970 Census representing 3% of the population, we present estimates of the relationship between service in World War II and educational attainment in Table 3. These measures of the within-year of birth differences in educational attainment between World War II veterans and men who did not serve in the military (neither World War II nor the Korean conflict) indicate substantial gaps in educational attainment, particularly at the collegiate level. For example, for men who turned 18 in the first complete birth cohort after Pearl Harbor (those born after 1923), those who served in World War II received about .4-.5 years more collegiate training than those who did not serve. Similarly, these World War II veterans were about 8 percentage points more likely to graduate from college than those who did not serve – a relative difference of more than 80 %. These striking differences in educational attainment are quite similar for the 1923-27 cohorts though appreciably lower for the 1928 cohort, with differences in educational attainment of about .27 years and a difference in college completion of about 4 percentage points.
Presumably, these simple differences in education exaggerate the causal effect of World War II service on collegiate attainment. World War II veterans were also 20 percentage points more likely to finish high school than non-veterans. Presumably, those rejected from the military for low mental capacity or illiteracy would have been high school drop outs. This suggests that most of the positive selection occurring during the war might have occurred among those with less than a high school degree and that within-cohort differences in educational attainment conditioned on high school completion might represent sensible comparisons to examine. Indeed, comparisons of post secondary educational attainment between veterans and non-veterans among the population graduating from high school may provide a reasonable estimate of the effect of military service on post secondary educational attainment.
Conditional on high school graduation, the difference between World War II veterans and nonveterans in terms of average number of years of college completed is about .3 while the difference in college completion rates is roughly 6 percentage points. To use these numbers to estimate the impact of World War II on college going or completion, one needs to multiply by the fraction of veterans with a high school diploma (2/3). This transformation moves these simple comparisons down to .2 years of college and a 4 percentage point gain in college completion. Plainly, these differences are still appreciable, but they suggest a smaller difference than is apparent in unconditional comparisons.
Table 3: Educational attainment of World War II veterans and nonveterans

World War II Veterans Non-Veterans Absolute Difference Percentage Difference
Year of Birth Fraction High Sch Graduate Average Years of College FractionCollegeGraduate Fraction High Sch Graduate Average Years of College FractionCollegeGraduate Fraction High Sch Graduate Average Years of College FractionCollegeGraduate Fraction High Sch Graduate Average Years of College FractionCollegeGraduate
1915 0.57 0.76 0.14 0.45 0.48 0.08 0.12 0.28 0.05 0.27 0.58 0.62
1916 0.58 0.76 0.13 0.45 0.49 0.08 0.13 0.27 0.05 0.28 0.55 0.58
1917 0.59 0.76 0.14 0.45 0.52 0.09 0.14 0.24 0.04 0.30 0.48 0.45
1918 0.59 0.78 0.14 0.44 0.54 0.10 0.15 0.25 0.04 0.35 0.46 0.41
1919 0.60 0.76 0.14 0.45 0.52 0.09 0.15 0.24 0.04 0.34 0.46 0.45
1920 0.62 0.84 0.15 0.46 0.58 0.10 0.16 0.25 0.04 0.34 0.43 0.43
1921 0.63 0.86 0.15 0.47 0.59 0.11 0.17 0.26 0.05 0.36 0.45 0.42
1922 0.64 0.89 0.17 0.45 0.55 0.10 0.18 0.35 0.06 0.40 0.64 0.62
1923 0.64 0.93 0.18 0.46 0.53 0.10 0.18 0.40 0.08 0.41 0.76 0.84
1924 0.64 1.00 0.20 0.43 0.51 0.10 0.21 0.49 0.10 0.49 0.96 1.01
1925 0.63 1.01 0.20 0.43 0.55 0.11 0.20 0.46 0.09 0.46 0.85 0.87
1926 0.63 1.04 0.20 0.44 0.62 0.12 0.19 0.42 0.08 0.42 0.69 0.64
1927 0.65 1.07 0.21 0.46 0.64 0.13 0.19 0.43 0.08 0.42 0.66 0.62
1928 0.63 0.97 0.18 0.53 0.70 0.13 0.10 0.27 0.04 0.20 0.38 0.34
1929 0.56 0.63 0.10 0.55 0.78 0.15 0.02 -0.15 -0.05 0.03 -0.19 -0.33
1930 0.56 0.49 0.06 0.55 0.80 0.16 0.01 -0.32 -0.10 0.02 -0.40 -0.61
Summary1923-28 0.64 1.01 0.19 0.45 0.58 0.11 0.18 0.42 0.08 0.41 0.72 0.73