Military Service and the Civilian Labor Force: Time- and Income-Based Evidence


This article explores military and veteran earnings and employment. It suggests that for a 21st century cohort, military service increases the earnings for those in subsequent civilian occupations at and below the median wage, but has negative effect on earnings at the high end of the distribution, and therefore, for more senior civilian occupations. This article posits that military service provides positive opportunities for those who enter military service with few other alternatives and career prospects. These veterans benefit from the experience and skills gained from military service and are thus able to secure employment in civilian occupations at or below the median wage. In contrast, for those seeking jobs with higher earning potential, military service can have a negative impact due to its interrupting effect, which prevents individuals accumulating the necessary work experience and training to make progress along a civilian career trajectory, to reach senior positions.


The average American military enlistee is likely to differ from the average civilian in employment ambitions and prospects. Current research on veteran wages, however, only examines the effect of military service on average earnings. We employ quantile regression techniques to estimate the effect of military service for the above- and below-average earnings that veterans may experience. We draw data from two longitudinal surveys, one including veterans who served during 1980–1994 and the other including veterans of the early 21st-century wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the 21st-century cohort, we find that military service appears to increase wages at and below the median wage but decrease earnings at the high end of the distribution, although these benefits may take several years after service and entry into the civilian labor market to appear.

Full Reference

Brown, C. and Routon, P. W., 2016. Military service and the civilian labor force: time and income-based evidence. Armed Forces & Society, 42(3), pp. 562-584.