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Chapter 9:

Trends in Propensity

Using data from sources such as the Youth Attitude Tracking Study (YATS) and Monitoring the Future (MTF), the Committee examined trends in youth attitudes towards the military and their intentions regarding military service (i.e., propensity). Overall, the Committee found that the proportion of male high school seniors who say they definitely will serve in the military remained fairly stable at about 10 percent from 1976 through 2001. The largest shift noted in this group was in those who said they definitely would not serve; this proportion was less than 40 percent in 1983, but increased to 60 percent in 1996. The Committee noted that a similar shift was found in young men who were not planning to attend college. Thus, the change cannot be attributed solely to the increase in the proportion of youth who go directly from high school to post-secondary education. Among the other trends noted in the data was a sharp increase in the number of 12th grade males who say they definitely will not serve in the military compared to the number of 10th grade males who say they definitely will not join one of the Services. This suggests that there are at least some young men who look favorably on military service when they are sophomores, but whose views switch by the time they are seniors. Another finding the Committee highlighted was that in the 1980s half or more of male senior high school students said they would volunteer for a war that they felt was necessary. More recently, this number has decreased to just over one-third.

Based on results from DMDC's Youth Poll 2 (July 2001), researchers noted that young adults know relatively little about the military.[Footnote 7] They know few members of the military. On average, today's youth know only five or six people who are either currently serving or have recently served in the military. Approximately, 44 percent of 15- to 21-year-olds know two or fewer Servicemembers. Considering the fact that impressions of the military are formed through personal contacts, for the most part, there is a need to convey positive information and knowledge about the military to youth and the adults in their lives — parents, teachers, etc. — who influence their career decisions.

The Committee examined several sources of data for evidence regarding the relationship between youth attitudes and propensity to enlist in the military. For instance, for young men a correlation of .73 was found between finding the military "an acceptable place to work" and propensity. A group of YATS items was found to be especially related to propensity. These were termed "Patriotic Adventure," and include seeking adventure and a physical challenge, wanting to do something for one's country, an interest in foreign and domestic travel, and wanting to do something of which one can be proud. In general, youth who have such aspirations have a greater propensity for military service. However, other YATS data suggest that there have been decreases over time in the percentage of youth who believe they have more opportunity to do something for their country by serving in the military than they would in a civilian job. This led to the suggestion that highlighting service to country as a benefit of enlisting in the military may be as, or even more effective than, stressing tangible benefits (e.g., money for college, job knowledge).

[Footnote 7]  Wirthlin Worldwide. Department of Defense Youth Poll - Wave 2, July 2001 (presentation prepared for Director, Accession Policy) (Arlington, VA: Defense Manpower Data Center, 2001). [back to paragraph]


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