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Studies tackle who joins the military and why, but their findings aren’t what many assume
Ever since the U.S. military became an all-volunteer force, a preconception has existed among many Americans that those who choose to join the armed services do so because they have no other options.
That is the hypothetis of two studies released this year. Both debunk that stereotype, finding that the military is much more diverse ― and troops have much more varied reasons for signing up ― than some have assumed.
“...our analysis suggests that, despite the increasing economic inequality and the erosion of many low-skill occupational opportunities, the U.S. military has not become a refuge for the less fortunate,” write authors Andrea Asoni, Andrea Gilli, Mauro Gilli and Tino Sandanaji in “A mercenary army of the poor? Technological change and the demographic composition of the post-9/11 U.S. military,” a report published January in the Journal of Strategic Studies.
Another study, based on a 2018 survey of Americans, sought to analyze not only why Americans join the military, but why others think they join.
“We find that, despite the reality of market-based recruitment, many Americans continue to subscribe to an idealized image of service members as moved by self-sacrificing patriotism,” wrote Ronald Krebs and Robert Ralston in “Patriotism or Paychecks: Who Believes What About Why Soldiers Serve,” published in Armed Forces and Society.
“This belief is most heavily concentrated among conservative Americans,” they found. “Liberal Americans are more likely to believe that service members join primarily for economic reasons. Those furthest to the left are more inclined to aver that service members join chiefly to escape desperate circumstances.”
Further, within families with service members, there was a disconnect between the members’ motivations and their families’ assumptions.
“Perhaps most surprising, we discover a disconnect between respondents with military experience and their families: The former are more likely to acknowledge that pay and benefits are a primary motivation for service, whereas their families are more likely to embrace a patriotic service narrative,” according to the study.The findings dovetail somewhat with public statements by some of the military’s most senior leaders.
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