Selection for Military Service in the Vietnam Era


In discussions of the incidence of Vietnam era military service, it is often
observed that blacks were over-represented among draftees in the early 1970's.
The racial composition of the armed forces, however, was determined jointly by
armed forces eligibility criteria and voluntary enlistment as well as by the
failure of draftees to avoid conscription. The interaction of these selection
criteria makes it impossible to use the armed forces racial mix as prima facie
evidence regarding the burden of conscription. In this paper, a modeling
strategy is developed that may be used to identify some of the parameters
affecting the process of selection for military service. The approach taken here
exploits the fact that in the early 1970's, the risk of conscription was randomly
allocated in a series of lotteries.
Data on enlistments during the 1971 draft lottery are fit to a behavioral
model using the technique of Modified Minimum Chi-Square. The empirical work
shows that although nonwhites were more likely than whites to be drafted and less
likely to meet armed forces eligibility criteria, they were also more likely to
consider military service an attractive alternative to civilian life. An
additional and related finding is that the draft induced proportionately more
whites than nonwhites to enlist. The elasticity of white enlistments with
respect to the probability of conscription is shown to be twice as large as the
elasticity of nonwhite enlistment. Thus, other things equal, conscription of
equal numbers of whites and nonwhites may actually reduce nonwhite representation
in the armed forces.

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