Date: August 15, 2002
Contacts: Vanee Vines, Media Relations Officer
Andrea Durham, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <>

U.S. Has Enough Qualified Youths But Meeting U.S. Military Personnel Needs
Requires Different Recruitment Strategies

WASHINGTON -- The nation has enough young people qualified for military service, but convincing them to join the armed forces will require changes in educational incentives and recruitment strategies, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council.

Because young people now place more value on getting a college education, the U.S. Department of Defense should expand ways for people to serve in the military while also working toward a degree, said the committee that wrote the report. The department also needs to combine some of its recruiting efforts to foster general interest in the military as a fulfilling career path.

"Delaying college is seen as less and less attractive," said committee chair Paul R. Sackett, professor of psychology, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. "Our report encourages the military to offer mechanisms that permit a closer link between military service and simultaneous pursuit of higher education. The services also are competing with each other for youths who are already interested in military service. We suggest an increased focus on advertising military service as a whole with the aim of broadening the pool of youth who consider military service. Additional advertising and other recruiting practices can then focus on the choice between the services to make it more attractive, and leaving the choice about which branch to join for later."

In the late 1990s, the U.S. armed forces struggled to meet their recruitment goals, and some branches fell short. Projected needs for the next 20 years are expected to remain at the current level of about 1.2 million enlisted personnel. About 200,000 new recruits are needed each year to maintain this level. In 1999, the Defense Department asked the Research Council to identify ways to ensure an adequate applicant pool by investigating the characteristics of youth today, the changing nature of work, and the effectiveness of the military's advertising and incentive programs.

Two relevant shifts in societal values are an increase in young people's college aspirations and a decrease in their desire to do something for their country, the committee said. To counteract these attitudinal changes, the department should design advertising strategies to appeal to a broader audience and expand recruiting efforts to include people who have been out of high school for a few years.

The most dramatic social change affecting military enlistment is the increase in college attendance, the committee found. In the early 1970s less than half of high school seniors went on to college; but by 1999, 63 percent of high school graduates were enrolling in college the same year they graduated from high school. A strong influence on students' choice of career paths is how much education their parents, especially their mothers, have acquired. But as parents and children view attending college as more important, fewer high school graduates choose to enlist in the military. To successfully recruit young people in the face of higher educational aspirations, the committee suggested expanding mechanisms to let enlistees serve while simultaneously pursuing a college degree.

The Defense Department also needs to revise its marketing strategies to change people's beliefs about what the military can offer. Even though American youths' life goals have remained generally the same for 25 years, fewer parents and young people believe a military career is the best way to satisfy those goals. Military advertising should work to reverse that perception, the report says. In addition, fewer young people list "doing something for my country" as an important occupational objective. Because youth who value making a contribution to their country are more likely to join the military, the committee pointed out that promoting such patriotic ideals in young people will expand the pool of likely recruits.

Pursuing the people who are slightly older than high school seniors and not traditionally targeted for recruitment is another way to expand the pool of likely enlistees, the report says. The societal trend toward an extended period of "post adolescence" means that young people are delaying life and career decisions longer. Young people who have left college may find an option for concurrent education and military service particularly attractive.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense. The National Research Council is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science policy advice under a congressional charter granted to the National Academy of Sciences. A committee roster follows.

Pre-publication copies of Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruiting are available from the National Academy Press; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences

Committee on Youth Population and Military Recruitment

Paul R. Sackett (chair)
Department of Psychology
University of Minnesota
Twin Cities

David J. Armor
Research Professor
School of Public Policy
George Mason University
Fairfax, Va.

Jerald G. Bachman
Program Director and Distinguished Senior Research Scientist
Institute for Social Research
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

John Sibley Butler
Professor of Management and Sociology
University of Texas

John Eighmey
Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication, and
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication
Iowa State University

Martin Fishbein
Harold C. Coles Distinguished Professor of Communications
Annenberg School for Communication
University of Pennsylvania

Carolyn Sue Hofstrand
Guidance and Counseling
T. Dewitt Taylor Middle-High School
Pierson, Fla.

Paul F. Hogan
Vice President and Senior Economist
Lewin-VHI Inc.
Fairfax, Va.

Carolyn Maddy-Bernstein
Assistant Professor
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge

Robert D. Mare
Department of Sociology
University of California
Los Angeles

Jeylan T. Mortimer
Professor of Sociology
University of Minnesota
Twin Cities

Carol A. Mutter
Lieutenant General
U.S. Marine Corps (retired)
Brownsburg, Ind.

Luther B. Otto
William Neal Reynolds Professor of Sociology
North Carolina State University

William J. Strickland
Work-force Analysis and
Training Systems Division, and
Vice President
Human Resources Research Organization
Alexandria, Va.

Nancy T. Tippins
Leadership Development and Selection Methodologies
GTE Corp.
Irving, Texas


Anne S. Mavor
Study Director