Going to War and Going to College: Returning Veterans

Our strategy for understanding the impact of war service and the G.I. Bill on the educational attainment of veterans represents an application of what Campbell and Stanley (1963) refer to as a regression discontinuity design. If the G.I. Bill raised college enrollment rates above what they would otherwise have been, cohorts born too late to serve in World War II would have been expected to receive less post secondary school education than those born a few years earlier. Other events in history, notably the Korean conflict, complicate the application of the straightforward regression discontinuity design to this problem. Men from the youngest birth cohorts subject to the World War II draft faced a relatively high probability of service in the Korean conflict.
As such, understanding the magnitude of the effect of the Korean War and the associated benefits for these veterans on educational attainment is an important parameter in bounding the magnitude of the World War II effect. Recognizing this complication, our objective in this paper is to use the range of available information to narrow the range of plausible parameter estimates. Throughout the analysis, we focus on the relationship between changes in military manpower requirements and educational outcomes for white men. Our results indicate that the combined effect of military service and the widely available funding for college through the G.I. Bill led to higher postsecondary educational attainment among World War II veterans than among their nonveteran peers, with particularly large effects on college completion. These results suggest that the behavioral effect of military service and the associated benefits was about .23-.36 years of college attainment or an increase in college completion of 5 to 8 percentage points.
The first section of this paper sets the stage by describing the mechanism determining military conscription and the educational benefits available to World War II veterans. The second section examines the variation in military service by birth cohort among men eligible for service in World War II and presents information on the use of the G.I. Bill among eligible men. The third section sets forth the estimation strategy. The fourth section presents results of the between cohort estimation, as well as other evidence used to bound the potential effects of wartime service and the G.I. Bill on the collegiate attainment of men serving in World War II. The final section concludes and discusses the results in the context of other reconciles the context of other empirical work on post-secondary educational attainment.