The myth refuses to die. We have all heard it. Several weeks ago, I was with a group of people and one “enlightened” member of the group mentioned in passing the “fact” that the military disproportionately attracts minorities and men and women from disadvantaged backgrounds. She, like so many, believed that troops enlist not because they want to serve their country but because they have few employment options. I have heard ill-informed politicians express this lament and at least one Presidential candidate.
Curious, as to whom, exactly, serves in the military, I researched this topic. Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I found several studies that addressed this topic and they all had similar findings. Both enlisted and officer corps come, primarily, from middle-class and upper-middle- class backgrounds, from families in which the median incomes were nearly 10% higher than the national median income of $50,428. Clearly, low-income families are underrepresented in today’s military.
Contrary to the popular misconception America’s that enlisted troops are poorly educated, research indicated they are much more highly educated than their peers. A little more than 1% of enlisted troops do not possess a high school diploma compared to 21% of men between the ages of 18-24 years of age. 95% of the officer corps has, at least, a bachelor’s degree.
The all-volunteer force was established in 1973 amid concerns over whether the military could maintain race representation proportional to the overall population. Research on this topic produced some interesting findings. Both whites and blacks are slightly over represented in their population representation, due to the fact that Asian and Pacific Island recruits are smaller than their population representation. While their numbers are small, the most over represented group among our recruits is the American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Finally, the findings regarding representation in the military by geographic region confirm the strong Southern military tradition. The South accounts for more than 40% of men and women serving in uniform, a huge proportional over representation. By contrast, the Northeast is significantly under represented. The Mountain West is overrepresented, and the West coast under represented. Surprisingly, the Midwest is slightly under represented.