Going to War and Going to College: The Incidence of Military Service

Going to War and Going to College: The Incidence of Military ServiceII. The Incidence of Military Service and G.I. Benefits
World War II stands above all other conflicts in both the share of men required to serve from any one birth cohort and the number of birth cohorts affected. The manpower demands of World War II brought together a total of 16 million military personnel between 1940 and 1945. The armed services relied on both voluntary enlistment and conscription through a draft mechanism. To put this in perspective, World War I engaged 4.7 million individuals, 5.7 million took part in the Korean conflict and 8.7 million took part in the Vietnam conflict [U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998, Table 585].
Across these conflicts, there has been considerable variation by year of birth in the likelihood of military service. Figure 1 shows the share of white men serving in major conflicts from the turn of the century forward by year and quarter of birth. World War II drew sizable numbers of men born as early as 1900 and a dramatic upswing in the proportion serving occurred between the birth cohorts of 1914 and 1919. More than 75 percent of white men born in each quarter between 1920 and the middle of 1926 served in World War II. The proportion of men serving from each quarter of birth in this interval held nearly steady, with only modest movement between 75% and the peak of 81% in the fourth quarter of 1921. For men born after the middle of 1926, induction rates slid dramatically.
While the manpower demands of the Korean conflict were only one third of those in World War II, men of prime age for military service at the start of the conflict were quite likely to serve. Men who served in World War II were exempt from conscription in the Korean conflict, leaving a relatively narrow pool of age-eligible men to draw into service at the start of 1950. The manpower demands of the Korean conflict intersect with the right tail of World War II service. The service participation in the Korean War peaked at the 1931 birth cohort with about 60% of white men serving. The fraction of men serving in the military dropped after Korea but continued to be relatively high with the continued tensions of the Cold War sustaining military manpower demand. The Vietnam conflict drove manpower needs up again until the end of the draft July 1973, when service rates plummeted.

Figure 1

Figure 1