Conclusions and Recommendations
There is a large number of hypothesized causes for the military’s recruiting difficulties of the past several years, as well as a similar set of hypotheses about potential effects on recruiting effectiveness in the future. Our goal in this report is to identify and examine a wide variety of such potential causal factors. Some factors are potentially within the control of decision makers (e.g., pay and benefits, recruiting practices, advertising messages), and others are not (e.g., changes in the size of the cohort eligible for military service, changes in the skill levels of American youth).
In examining each of these factors, our perspective was forward-looking. Our focus was not on producing a definitive answer to the question of what caused the military recruiting shortfalls of recent years, but rather on identifying factors likely to influence future recruiting effectiveness. There was no expectation that we would uncover a single factor accounting for recruiting effectiveness, given the broad set of individual, situational, organizational, and societal influences on decisions about military service. We did hope, however, to identify a small set of important variables from among a broader array of possible factors affecting recruiting effectiveness.
This report is structured around a set of potential contributing factors. We explored each in turn, and in this chapter we draw a set of conclusions in each domain. First, we examined demand factors, inquiring about possible changes in overall force size and structure, in the aptitude levels needed for effective performance, in the physical demands of military work, in the moral and character requirements of military work, and in the levels of attrition and retention.
Second, we examined the demographic context for armed forces recruitment. The size and composition of the youth population are fundamental constraints on future recruitment efforts. We were able to forecast the size and some aspects of the composition of the youth population for the next 15 to 20 years with considerable accuracy because these persons are already born.
Third, we reviewed the four major domains in which military applicants are screened: aptitudes (indexed by the Armed Forces Qualification Test, AFQT), educational attainment (possession of a high school diploma), physical and medical qualification, and moral character (e.g., lack of a criminal record). In each of these domains, we reviewed the Services’ current enlistment requirements and evaluated whether change in these requirements is likely. We then reviewed evidence regarding the current supply of youth possessing these characteristics and consider the likelihood of change over time in the proportion of youth with these characteristics.
Fourth, we examined the three major options available to the youth who make up the prime military recruiting market: joining the military, pursuing higher education, or entering the civilian labor market. We reviewed the changing landscape regarding (1) participation in postsecondary education and opportunities available to youth in the civilian labor market and (2) aspects of these alternatives that compete with the Service options or may be fruitfully combined with them.
Fifth, we examined changes in youth attitudes, values, perceptions, and influencers over the past two decades. We reviewed major findings from extensive long-term longitudinal and cross-sectional research on youth attitudes and on the relationship between youth attitudes and the propensity to enlist. We offered an integrated theory of behavioral choice that can productively guide future research on the determinants of propensity and of actual enlistment.
Sixth, we examined a range of issues involving military advertising, including goals, strategies, and messages. Advertising is a part of the broad recruitment process, and we examined this process more generally, including a comparison with recruiting practices in the civilian labor market.
Changes in Force Size
The end of the Cold War resulted in an intentional 38 percent reduction in active-duty military enlisted strength, from 1.85 million in 1987 to 1.15 million in 1999. The drawdown is now complete, with enlisted
strength now essentially stable. The question of projected changes for the future now comes to the fore. We acknowledge that this is an area in which unanticipated events can have dramatic effects; such events could radically alter any projections of needed force size. What we can do is examine articulated national security strategy and various planning documents and consider the implications of these for force size.
In light of the September 11, 2001, attacks and subsequent terrorist threats to the United States, it seems unlikely to us that force sizes will be reduced in the near term from their current levels. We also do not see clear evidence of factors that would result in a significant increase in net force size. For example, while it is clear that military technology will become increasingly sophisticated and may affect the knowledge and skill mix needed in the enlisted force, it is not clear that technological change will affect force size per se. We reviewed research on historical changes in the distribution of military personnel across occupational categories over the past 25 years and found very little evidence of change.
Conclusion: Although the events of September 11, 2001, have increased uncertainty regarding future demand, we found no compelling evidence that requirements for numbers of new personnel will change radically in the future. Therefore, for planning purposes, we assume that over the next 20 years military missions and structure will require about the same numbers of new personnel joining the military every year.
Changes in Levels of Required Aptitudes and Other Attributes
We reviewed current military entry requirements and examined the possibility of future changes in these requirements. We also examined research projecting aptitude requirements of future military jobs. The results of this work are mixed, with some studies projecting no significant changes in aptitude requirements, and others projecting a need for somewhat higher aptitude levels, at least in some jobs.
We also compared the aptitude levels (as indexed by AFQT scores) of recent accession cohorts with the civilian population ages 18–23, and with minimum aptitude requirements for military jobs. These analyses indicate that military enlistees compare very favorably to the civilian population and that the Services are accessing individuals well above the minimum requirements for successful performance.
The Services are currently accessing recruits who have sufficient aptitude and can be trained to perform military tasks adequately. Recruits satisfying current qualification levels will meet future demands.
There have been few major changes in the occupational distribution of first-term personnel in the past 10 years, but future military missions coupled with advances in technology are expected to require military personnel to make greater use of technology. Technological changes will make some jobs in the future easier and others more difficult, but overall minimum aptitude requirements in some occupational fields are likely to increase somewhat over the next 20 years. Because current qualification levels are so far above the minimum, the increase does not pose a problem. However, timely and responsive changes to training may be required. New systems are especially problematic as schedules slip and funding is used for other priorities.
Recommendation: We urge that the Services resist the notion that recruit aptitude and education targets must continue to be raised, and we recommend that they continuously review their performance requirements and the related training of new recruits to ensure that beginning knowledge gaps are filled when necessary and that unnecessary training is abandoned quickly. To the extent possible, training changes should be anticipatory, especially for new systems.
Changes in Rates of Retention and Reenlistment
The demand for new recruits is also in part a function of Service retention capabilities. Each Service has goals for retention at the level of specific military occupational specialties. Attrition rates that exceed expectations translate into recruitment needs. We note that overall end strength targets may be met while still experiencing shortfalls in key occupational areas.
We reviewed data on attrition rates across the services at 6, 12, 24, and 36 months and observed that attrition rates at each of these points in time have consistently increased over the past 15 years. The degree to which this reflects changes in individual reactions to the military experience or changes in the ease with which individuals seeking to leave are permitted to do so is unclear. Personnel who are dissatisfied with their Service experience return to their home towns spreading word about negative aspects of military service, which makes the job of the recruiter much more difficult.
We also reviewed surveys from each Service on reasons enlisted personnel leave the Service and career intention surveys, which monitor reenlistment plans. In some cases these surveys been developed quite recently and historical data are not available, making the results difficult to interpret. These efforts need to be expanded to develop a better basis for policy decisions.
Conclusion: Retention is important to and has an impact on readiness and recruiting. It therefore is important to better understand what factors influence retention decisions and to continue to monitor them. In addition to traditional Service efforts to minimize attrition and unplanned losses, the messages the military sends to its members also find their way to potential recruits, and vice versa. Also, the messages veterans pass along to friends and family members can either encourage or discourage enlistment.
Recommendation: We recommend that the Services:
Fully integrate planning, budgeting, and resource allocation for both recruiting and retention, so they are complementary (e.g., applying assets to increase retention should result in reduced recruiting goals).
Expand the body of knowledge concerning factors influencing retention. A process is needed to provide timely leading indicators that will help decision makers focus efforts and inform decision making in ways that can positively impact retention, especially for critical skill sets and for quality of life issues.
Changes in Youth Population Size and Composition
Both size and composition of the youth population have implications for military recruitment. Looking first at size, we found that cohorts of persons reaching age 18 are expected to grow significantly over the next 10 years and then remain approximately at a plateau during the following decade. Approximately 4 million youth reached age 18 in 2000, a number that will increase to approximately 4.5 million by 2008 and trail off only slightly during the subsequent decade.
Turning to composition, we noted that the ethnic composition of the youth population will change significantly over the next 15 to 20 years. Even in the absence of changes in immigration patterns, the ethnic makeup of the youth population will change because of recent changes in the ethnic makeup of women of childbearing age and ethnic differences in fertility rates.
Based on recent fertility patterns, the percentage of young adults who are Hispanic, of whom the largest subgroup is of Mexican origin, will increase substantially. In 2000, approximately 14 percent of 18-year-olds were of Hispanic origin, a fraction that will gradually increase to approxi-
mately 22 percent over the next 15 years. This increase, paired with the fact that the high school graduation rate for Hispanics is lower than for other groups, is an important issue given the Services’ interest in enlisting a high proportion of high school graduates.
A growing percentage of youth will be raised by parents who are immigrants to the United States, a result of high rates of recent immigration and relatively high fertility levels of foreign-born women. Approximately 11 percent of 18-year-olds in 2000 were born to foreign-born mothers, a fraction that will approximately double during the next 20 years.
Although immigration has been an important component of population growth in the United States as a whole over the past two decades, projections by the U.S. Bureau of the Census do not point to future increases in the proportion of youth who are foreign born over the next two decades. If anything, these estimates point to a slight decline in the proportion of 18-year-olds who will be immigrants between now and 2020.
The socioeconomic characteristics of parents, such as their levels of educational attainment, have a large effect on the aspirations and decisions of youths, especially concerning higher education. Average levels of maternal education for teenagers have increased markedly and will continue to do so over the next two decades, a result of increases over time in educational attainment in the population. This is important, given the positive relationship between maternal the education and the educational aspirations of youth. For young adults reaching age 18 in 2000, approximately 45 percent had mothers who received a high school diploma but went no farther in school, 35 percent had mothers with some education beyond high school, and the remainder dropped out before high school completion. By 2013, slightly less than 35 percent of youths will have mothers who received only a high school diploma and over 45 percent will have mothers who obtained postsecondary schooling. Within the next two decades, the majority of youth will be raised by mothers who have completed at least some college.
Enlistment in the armed forces is affected in part by previous exposure to military life. Traditionally, many youths have obtained this exposure through parents who, at some time in their lives, served in the armed forces. The proportion of young adults who have had one or more parents with military experience has fallen dramatically and will continue to fall in the coming years. Of youths who reached age 18 in 1990, approximately 37 percent were born to families in which one or more parents had served in the armed forces. Of those who reach 18 in 2000, this percentage had dropped to approximately 17 percent. Of those who will reach 18 in
2010, this percentage will drop further, to about 12 percent. This represents a large decline in exposure to military experience within the nuclear family.
Conclusion: Trends in numbers of births and in the composition of the child population have offsetting effects on potential enlistment trends. Although the annual number of births has increased in recent years, children are increasingly raised by highly educated parents and by parents who have no direct experience with the armed forces, factors that are negatively related to interest in military service. The net impact of these offsetting trends is a small increase in expected numbers of potential enlistees in the next decade, although a slight decline is expected in the subsequent decade. Thus, demographic trends do not emerge as factors that will contribute to increasing difficulty in meeting enlistment goals. Other factors discussed in this report, such as advertising and recruitment practices, will determine whether potential enlistees actually enlist at a rate necessary to meet goals.
Changes in Educational Attainment and Postsecondary Enrollment
During the 1990s, rates of college enrollment and levels of education completed increased dramatically as a result of three broad trends: (1) changes over time in parental characteristics, especially parents’ educational attainment, which increased youths’ resources and aspirations for education; (2) the greater inclusion in higher education of women and some ethnic minorities; and (3) increased economic incentives to attend and complete college, a result of changes in the labor market for college-and non-college-educated workers.
Rates of college enrollment increased in the 1990s for new high school graduates, whether they were employed shortly after high school or not. Enrollment rates increased for both two- and four-year institutions, although the increases were somewhat greater at the latter.
Two-year college enrollment rates are higher for recent Hispanic high school graduates than for their non-Hispanic counterparts. Four-year enrollment rates are much higher for non-Hispanic than for Hispanic youths. Non-Hispanic white youths have traditionally had higher four-year enrollment rates than black youths, but these rates have converged to some degree in recent years. As college enrollments increase, the pool of youth who are both eligible and interested in military service decreases.
Conclusion: The dramatic increase in college enrollment is arguably the single most significant factor affecting the environment in which military recruiting takes place.
TRENDS IN YOUTH QUALIFICATIONS AND ENLISTMENT REQUIREMENTS
We reviewed current enlistment standards, and the evidentiary basis for these standards. Current Department of Defense (DoD) guidance requires a minimum of 90 percent new accessions to have a high school diploma, a requirement supported by a strong positive relationship between receipt of a diploma and completion of the first term of military service and by cost-benefit analysis. Minimum aptitude requirements (by statute) are that no more than 20 percent fall into AFQT category IV (i.e., between the 10th and 30th percentile of the youth population); DoD guidance recommends a maximum of 4 percent accessions within this category. DoD guidance suggests that at least 60 percent fall into AFQT categories I–IIIA (i.e., in the top 50 percent of the youth population).
The value of aptitude requirements is well documented by research linking AFQT scores to both training and job performance. The 60 percent AFQT I–IIIA goal, however, is not specifically justified as an absolute minimum. Evidence of a relatively small difference in performance between personnel in categories IIIA and IIIB suggests that a modest reduction in the 60 percent goal to include more IIIBs would not have a large effect on performance. The physical, medical, and moral character qualifications appear to be policy based, rather than research based.
Research on projected changes in military work suggests that there may be increases in aptitude requirements for some military jobs. We see no reason to project a change in the value of the high school diploma requirement, given the strong link to attrition and the high costs of attrition. We also see no reason to project a change in the physical, medical, or moral requirements.
Success in Meeting Qualifications Goals
In the education domain, through 1998, the Services were able to meet their recruiting targets while sustaining a rate of accession of high school graduates above 90 percent. The Services have made up the gap in diploma graduates by recruiting mostly persons holding GEDs and other credentials rather than recruiting nongraduates, even though the attrition profiles of such individuals are not that different. This downward trend in success in recruiting high school diploma graduates is especially noteworthy given the population trends in high school graduation rates. High school graduation rates have continued to rise for the past 10 years, so the negative trends in military applicants and accessions appear to reflect a decrease in propensity rather than the supply of qualified youth.
In the aptitude domain, up through 1998 the Services were able to meet the goal of 60 percent highly qualified (i.e., AFQT Category I–IIIA) accessions, while maintaining a very low rate (below 2 percent) of Category IV accessions. The rate of highly qualified accessions is now only a few percentage points below the DoD guideline of 60 percent. As noted above, there is not a strong research basis for 60 percent as the standard, and we suggest that it could be relaxed slightly to substitute somewhat more IIIB accessions for IIIA accessions.
There are limited summary data on military applicants who have various physical or moral characteristics that might make them ineligible for military service. The data are more complete for accessions, for which waivers are given for a variety of conditions. The rate of waivers for moral character (crime, drug use, etc.) was quite high between 1980 and 1991; it then dropped off considerably later in the 1990s. In contrast, the rates of waivers for physical problems (mostly overweight) and other problems (dependents, etc.) have both increased during the 1990s, although their overall rates remain low.
Conclusion: The percentage of highly qualified enlistments has declined somewhat in the past 10 years. This decline, however, has been from a very high rate of highly qualified enlistments (which exceeded DoD targets) to a point for some Services just below these targets. Thus, despite recruiting difficulties and some shortfalls in recent years, the enlisted force remains highly qualified.
Projections About the Supply of Highly Qualified Youth
For the nation as a whole, high school graduation rates have risen. Rates have also risen for minority groups, and especially for black students. For them, graduation rates were around 78 percent during the early 1970s, and by 1999 they had risen to just above 87 percent. Graduation rates still remain low for Hispanic students; they have risen only from about 65 percent to just over 70 percent in the past 20 years. Thus the supply of youth with high school diplomas has improved slightly over the past few decades.
We reviewed longitudinal data on trends in reading, mathematics, and science achievement over 30 years. Scores in all three domains have been stable for the past 10 years. Projections are that there will be neither a sizable increase nor a sizable decrease in the supply of high-aptitude youth.
Conclusion: The potential supply of highly qualified youth in the U.S. population (in terms of both aptitude and education) will remain fairly
stable over the next 10 years, and there is no reason to expect any decline over the next 20 years. If anything, the proportion of highly qualified youth may increase slightly, particularly if high school graduation rates continue to rise.
We note that if there were to be a small increase in aptitude levels, a higher proportion of the youth population would score in AFQT categories I–IIIA. If AFQT were renormed to ensure that categories I–IIIA contain 50 percent of the youth population, the result would be that the absolute aptitude level needed to be in the top 50 percent would increase.
Recommendation: If the AFQT is renormed due to rising aptitudes, DoD should consider reducing Category I–IIIA targets to avoid an inadvertent reduction in the supply of Category I–IIIA youth.
Our review covered data on the rates of various disqualifying physical, medical, and moral factors in the youth population, documenting changes in drug use, obesity, and asthma rates. These characteristics require waivers for accession. There are two possibilities: one is that there will be an increase in the number of waivers requested and granted; the other is that a higher proportion of the youth population will be ineligible for military service.
Conclusion: Based on recent population trends, there may be further increases in certain population characteristics over the next 20 years that require waivers for accession, including both moral behavior and health conditions. Drug use, obesity, and asthma are among the most pervasive and serious of these characteristics.
Recommendation: DoD should initiate cost-performance trade-off studies regarding the physical, medical, and moral standards (and waivers for such) in order to develop more specific guidance for minimum standards in this area.
TRENDS IN YOUTH OPPORTUNITIES
Joining the Military
The U.S. military is similar to civilian occupations in that it competes for the youth population based on compensation, benefits, and training and educational opportunities. We presented an overview of the conditions of military service, emphasizing similarities and differences between the military experience and the education and employment experiences that constitute the major alternative courses of action for youth following high school. We reviewed the military compensation system and contrasted it with the civilian compensation system. The compensation sys-
tem, consisting of pay, allowances, special and incentive pays, and retirement, is complex. The U.S. military continues to offer many in-kind benefits, such as housing and subsistence, not typically found in civilian employers’ benefit structures. Moreover, military compensation is based on needs (e.g., pay depends on marital or dependent status), which is not the case in the civilian sector.
Conclusion: The compensation and benefit structure in the military typically provides less flexibility and choice than is found in the private sector.
Recommendation: We recommend that the compensation and benefits structure, including the 20-year vesting of military retirement, should be reviewed with the purpose of making the Services more attractive in today’s labor market.
We reviewed research on the competitiveness of military compensation and benefits. Given the military goal of 60 percent of accessions being high school graduates in the upper half of the population aptitude distribution, the key target group for military recruitment consists of individuals with characteristics that also make them eligible for college. Research indicates that regular military compensation (an index of pay and housing and subsistence allowances) is less than what similarly qualified individuals with some college could earn in the civilian labor market, and markedly less than the earnings of college graduates. Even more crucially, research indicates a growing gap in the lifetime earnings of college graduates versus nongraduates.
The most important research we examined on the effects of recruiting resources on enlistments comes from the econometric literature on military recruiting. The effect of recruiting resources on enlistments is summarized in a measure called an elasticity, which indicates the percentage increase in recruits one can expect when a particular recruiting resource increases by 10 percent. If the elasticity of enlistments with respect to recruiters is 0.5, for example, a 10 percent increase in recruiters would result in a 5 percent increase in enlistments. As these recruiting resources differ in costs, cost data and elasticity data are combined to produce estimates of the marginal costs of one additional highly qualified recruit. The marginal cost estimates are roughly similar for recruiters, educational benefits, and enlistment bonuses. This suggests that the Services are currently using an efficient mix of these resources.
This econometric research does not suggest that the elasticity of the factors studied has changed (a possible exception is evidence of reduced effectiveness of the Army College Fund benefits). In other words, the authors of the research do not find that advertising has become less effec-
tive or that recruiters have become less effective. The increase in the rate of college attendance accounts for some of the decline in recruiting highly qualified youth, but a sizable amount of the decline in enlistments is not explainable by the traditional factors examined in this research. Note, though, that the most current research focuses on the period 1987–1997 and thus covers only a portion of the post-drawdawn period. Advertising expenditures have increased dramatically during this period, in which a number of the services have experienced difficulty meeting recruiting goals. Thus there is no clear evidence as to the elasticity of such factors as advertising in the post-drawdown era.
The effect of an individual resource or factor on recruiting cannot be evaluated without accounting for all other factors affecting recruiting. Hence, one cannot necessarily infer that if advertising expenditures increased over a particular period but recruiting or propensity declined over the period, that advertising has no, or even a negative, effect. Other factors could have dominated the change in the outcome variable of interest. Although there have been relatively few careful, multivariate studies of the effects of various factors and resources on recruiting over the 1990s, the few that have been conducted suggest that most resources, including advertising, have remained effective. Econometric researchers find that measured elasticities of advertising in the Army in the 1990s (through 1997) are consistent with earlier estimates. In some of the other Services, most notably the Marine Corps, the results have not been as clear. But this is probably because advertising expenditures in the Marine Corps have been smaller, less variable, and therefore more difficult to measure precisely; the small Marine Corps mission makes it more difficult to distinguish between demand-constrained results and the true enlistment supply curve.
Conclusion: A number of resources appear to be viable mechanisms for increasing the numbers of enlistments of highly qualified youth.
Recommendation: We recommend that the Services and DoD periodically evaluate the effects of increased investment in recruiters, educational benefits, enlistment bonuses, and advertising as well as the most efficient mix of these resources. We consider increasing compensation across the board the least cost-effective mechanism for bringing in new recruits or increasing retention.
Employment as an Alternative
We reviewed opportunities available to youth in the civilian labor market. A large proportion (approximately two-thirds) of 18-year-olds choose to continue their education within 12 months of graduating from
high school. Large portions of college students, probably the majority, hold part-time jobs while they are attending school. About 25 percent enter the full-time civilian labor market immediately upon high school graduation. Over time, there has been an increase in the proportion of youth who choose full-time participation in school as opposed to those who choose full-time work. Most students today are combining school and work compared with 30 years ago.
We attempted a comparison of military and civilian work with regard to recruitment methods, entry standards, compensation, benefits, and training. The dominant message is that while these factors are relatively standardized and readily describable in the military context, they vary widely across jobs and organizations in the civilian sector and more particularly in the private sector. Thus when comparing military service to private sector employment, one cannot reach an overall conclusion that one option is superior to the other in all aspects. Moreover, it is extremely difficult based on the available data to conclude that the military service or private sector employment is more attractive on such critical factors as compensation, benefits, and training. Rather, comparisons would have to be made by an individual between specific opportunities: e.g., service in the Army in a specific occupational specialty compared with work in a particular company and a particular job.
In the area of compensation, one of the central questions is the extent to which compensation deters (or aids) enlistments. However, compensation is one area in which comparing military salaries to civilian salaries is difficult because of the problems in interpreting the results. Averages across job levels and companies result in aggregations that may not represent any situation realistically, due to the wide variation in civilian pay practices. Another problem with comparing wage data is that salaries are only one component of the total compensation package. Despite the difficulty of comparisons of like information, beliefs exist that pay levels in the private sector are higher for comparable jobs.
Conclusion: There is a high degree of variability in private sector employment opportunities, in terms of entry standards, training provided, compensation, and benefits. Benefits are a significant part of the total compensation package both for workers in industry and for military enlistees. While job-by-job comparisons are difficult, average military compensation is, in fact, higher for high school graduates (without college) than average private sector pay for individuals with comparable experience. However, average pay for college graduates is substantially higher in the private sector.
Recommendation: For aspects of military service that are more attractive than private sector employment, the Services should broadly promote that information. A few examples: (a) vacation time in the military that is markedly greater than in most private sector jobs, (b) military pay that is competitive with private sector pay for high school graduates, (c) the job security provided by a contract for a tour of duty, and (d) the intrinsic rewards associated with service to country.
Education as an Alternative
About 95 percent of high school seniors expect to go to college, and 69 percent expect to earn at least a bachelor’s degree. Increasing numbers of them are taking advantage of an array of available opportunities to obtain postsecondary credentials. Roughly two-thirds of American youth participate in some form of postsecondary education by their late 20s. In 1999, about two-thirds of high school graduates enrolled in a 2- or 4-year institution in the same year they graduated from high school. All of these indices—college plans, immediate enrollment after high school degree completion, and eventual participation in postsecondary education— show a long-term and consistent upward trend over the past several decades through the mid-1990s. While college aspirations and enrollment are increasing, it is also the case that a sizable proportion leave school for some period of time and subsequently return (stopout), and others leave and do not return (dropout).
While enrollment in community colleges has remained stable for new high school graduates (about 10 percent), the rate of community college participation has grown among older students. Many are pursuing specific knowledge and skills rather than a degree. For most pursuing a 2-year degree, the degree is an end in itself rather than a step toward a 4-year degree; about 23 percent transfer to a 4-year college.
If military recruitment were limited to the non-college-bound, this great reduction in the target population would be exceedingly problematic. In fact, however, in recent years the majority of high school senior males with high military propensity have also planned to complete four years of college. Nevertheless, it is also the case that average levels of military propensity are lower among the college-bound than among others, so the rise in college aspirations has added to recruiting difficulties.
We reviewed a range of programs currently available for obtaining college credit and pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree while in the Service. Increasing numbers of two- and four-year colleges are offering Internet programs leading to a degree. Distance learning programs
offered by postsecondary institutions may be an avenue for overcoming some of the barriers to obtaining a postsecondary education while in the Service (e.g., sea duty for Navy men and women).
When considering the value of educational incentives to enlistment, it should be kept in mind that the proportions of young people potentially attracted by college incentives are larger than ever before, and that they already constitute the majority of all new recruits in recent years.
Cost issues are particularly relevant to the higher education opportunities of lower-income youth. We note that there has been significant growth in the availability of merit-based financial aid that benefits middleclass students more than lower-income students. The proportion of need-based financial aid has not kept pace with the rising cost of college.
The rising expectations of students and parents regarding participation in higher education and the continued increase in postsecondary enrollment indicate that opportunities for higher education are a focal issue for the vast majority of youth.
That some of those aspiring to higher education do not pursue it immediately upon high school graduation suggests some combination of delaying due to uncertainty about career goals and barriers to access, such as financial need. The military has long been responsive in many ways to these concerns through various programs that provide support for education prior to, during, or after completion of a tour of duty. But increased parental and societal pressures for pursuing higher education suggest that increased opportunities for the simultaneous pairing of military service and higher education could enhance recruiting effectiveness.
Conclusion: If highly qualified youth can be drawn into the military, it will increasingly be through a concurrent military service-education combination. To make the military more attractive to the college-bound population, there should be realistic paths to degree completion. Particularly useful are programs such as college first (before entry to the military) or the opportunity to combine the experience of higher education and military service so that they can be accomplished simultaneously.
Recommendation: We recommend that:
Recruiting efforts focusing on college aspirants should be continued and perhaps expanded.
DoD investigate mechanisms for cost-effective recruiting of the college stopout/dropout market.
DoD continue to link Service programs with existing postsecondary institutions offering distance degree programs.
YOUTH ATTITUDES, VALUES, PERCEPTIONS, AND INFLUENCERS
Youth Attitudes and Values
Youth analysts are increasingly speaking of a new phase in the life course between adolescence and adulthood, an elongated phase of semiautonomy, variously called postsecondary adolescence, youth, or emerging adulthood. During this time young people are relatively free from adult responsibilities and able to explore diverse career and life options.
Conclusion: The period during which youth make career and life decisions has been significantly prolonged, with many young people in their mid-20s still undecided about their life goals and plans.
Recommendation: The military should investigate mechanisms for cost-effective recruiting of individuals who are somewhat older than the traditional target of high school seniors.
The best data on youth attitudes over an extended period of time comes from the Monitoring the Future project, which has carefully examined representative samples of youth from the mid-1970s to the present. First, with few exceptions, ratings of the importance of various life goals show a high degree of stability over two decades: the rank ordering of the goals is virtually unchanged. “Finding purpose and meaning in my life” tops the list of important life goals among young men and (even more so) young women. Second, ratings on the importance of a set of 24 job characteristics are also very similar over two decades. One area of change is that “having more than two weeks’ vacation” has risen in importance. Third, views about the importance of work in young people’s lives have been largely stable. There has been a slow and modest decline in the proportion considering work as a central part of life (roughly 0.5 percent per year. We also note an important change emerging from an analysis of data from the Youth Attitudes Tracking Study: namely, a considerable decrease in the value attached to duty to country.
Conclusion: In general, the past two decades have not seen dramatic changes in youth ratings of important goals in life, preferred job characteristics, preferred work settings, and views of military service. One exception is a steady decline in the importance placed on “doing something for my country.” Answers to recruiting problems are not likely to be found by seeking to discover and capitalize on characteristics unique to a
new generation. There is no evidence for abrupt generational shifts in values.
Recommendation: We recommend that recruiting strategies be based on long-term research rather than assumptions of generational shifts presented in the popular literature.
Civic Duty and Volunteerism
We reviewed research on issues of civic duty and volunteerism, with a focus on the links between these issues and military service. Despite concerns about declining social capital and civic society, many young Americans are involved in community service activities, both during and in the years immediately after high school. Participation in community service, volunteering, and political activities in adolescence and early adulthood have lasting consequences with regard to fostering civic concerns, community service, and various other forms of participation in society. In view of the increasingly global world, it is noteworthy that the activities that are engaging the interest and altruism of young people and inspiring the more politically active among them are often not national in scope. They are oriented to local needs, as well as to extranational or universal human rights and other objectives.
Conclusion: There is evidence of continuing involvement in community service and volunteering among American youth. Since “finding purpose and meaning in my life” tops the list of important life goals, and since military service can offer such purpose and meaning, recruiting strategies should capitalize on this aspect of military service.
Two questions framed our inquiry: Who influences youth propensity to enlist in military service, and how do young people incorporate those influences into their career plans and decisions? Across the studies we reviewed, the single most compelling observation is that parents (and particularly mothers) have a critical influence on their sons’ and daughters’ career aspirations and achievements. Others to whom youth turn include peers, other adults, and counselors.
Closer examination of the empirical data suggests that parents, peers, counselors, and recruiters may influence youth career decisions. Formulating direction, a defined occupational career objective or trajectory, requires cognitively processing information, but acting in the direction of a particular career also requires motivation.
Parents are uniquely positioned to provide encouragement, affirmation, and legitimization of a young person’s aspirations and career decisions. Mothers have been the family voice on relationship issues. The implication for military recruitment is that efforts to enlist parental support hold the potential for yielding enlistment dividends.
Moreover, the fact that mothers are influential suggests that their ideological perspective to military service ought not be ignored in designing effective recruitment messages. Accurately ascertaining contemporary women’s ideological stance toward the military and fashioning recruitment messages that appeal to rather than counter their perspectives may hold additional promise for more effective recruiting.
Conclusion: Parents, peers, school counselors, and recruiters provide information and support that can influence youth career decisions. School counselors and recruiters provide information that influences youth decisions, while parents and peers provide support in the decision-making process. Parents have a critical influence on their sons’ and daughters’ career aspirations and achievements; mothers are extraordinarily important influencers in the youth career decision-making process. Military recruitment effectiveness may be improved by increasing and targeting recruitment information specifically designed for parents, with particular attention to those designed for mothers.
PERSPECTIVES ON INTENTIONS AND INFLUENCE PROCESSES
According to behavioral theory, there are three immediate antecedents to any behavior—in this case, military enlistment: the intention to perform the behavior (propensity), the possession of the skills needed to perform the behavior, and environmental factors influencing its performance. This suggests two diverging lines of inquiry for examining military enlistment. First, among those with the propensity to join the military, research can focus on skill deficiency and environmental factors that may interfere with an individual’s acting on the propensity. Second, for those who are qualified but have no propensity to enlist, research can focus on identifying and intervening to change the factors that determine propensity.
According to behavioral theory, only a limited number of variables need to be considered in order to understand the formation of any given intention. There is considerable empirical evidence that most of the variance in an intention to perform any given behavior can be accounted for by: (a) the attitude toward performing the behavior, (b) the norms governing performance of the behavior, or (c) a sense of self-efficacy with
respect to performing the behavior in question (i.e., a subjective belief that one can perform the behavior successfully.) Moreover, each of these three psychosocial variables is, in turn, a function of underlying beliefs: about the consequences of performing the behavior; about the behavioral expectations and behaviors of specific significant others; and about the barriers and facilitators of behavioral performance. All other variables are assumed to have, at best, an indirect effect on intention by influencing one or more of these underlying beliefs.
With few exceptions, theories of behavior have not been applied to predicting and understanding the propensity to enlist. Even when analyses are conducted at the individual level, the critical theoretical determinants of intentions and behavior have rarely been assessed or have been assessed inappropriately. Instead, individual-level analyses have attempted to predict propensity from a large array of demographic, personality, and psychosocial variables (e.g., attitudes toward institutions, values) that, at best, may have indirect effects on the propensity to enlist.
Most attempts to predict propensity have occurred at the aggregate level, examining the relation between the proportion of people with a propensity to enlist (or who have actually enlisted) and a large array of demographic, economic, and psychosocial variables (e.g., percent unemployed, civilian/military pay differentials, educational benefits offered, percentage of the population holding a given belief, attitude, or value) over time. Such aggregate-level analysis can disguise important effects at the individual level. For purposes of designing interventions to increase the proportion of the population with a propensity to enlist at any given point in time or to increase the likelihood that those with a propensity will, in fact, enlist, individual-level analyses that identify the critical determinants of propensity are critical. These types of analyses have not been done. Thus, the most relevant data for guiding the development of effective messages to increase propensity are currently not available.
Conclusion: Empirically supported theories of behavioral prediction can help explain why some people do and others do not form intentions to join the military. They can also help to explain why some people do and others do not act on those intentions. Effective research to examine the determinants of enlistment decisions and of the propensity to enlist requires data conducive to individual-level as well as aggregate-level analysis.
Recommendation: We recommend that:
Advertising campaigns and other messages to increase propensity should be based on sound empirical evidence that identifies the beliefs to be targeted.
Ongoing surveys to assess the critical determinants of propensity should be conducted on a regular basis. These surveys should allow for individual-level analyses.
We undertook some secondary analysis of existing data from the Youth Attitude Tracking Study, casting data from that study in a behavioral theory framework. Results suggest that intrinsic incentives (e.g., duty to country, ability to stay close to one’s family, equal opportunity for women and minorities) may be at least as important, if not more important, than extrinsic incentives (e.g., pay, money for education) as determinants of propensity. With the exception of advertising by the Marine Corps, most advertising has focused on extrinsic incentives, paying little attention to intrinsic incentives.
Conclusion: There has been a steady decline in the perception that many valued job attributes will be obtained from the military and a corresponding increase in the perception that they will be obtained from civilian employment or equally from both. The erosion in beliefs that valued outcomes are more likely to be obtained in the military than in civilian jobs is a factor contributing to the decline in propensity.
Recommendation: In order to increase propensity to enlist, the military should develop strategies to stop the erosion in beliefs about the values it can provide and to reclaim “ownership” of certain valued attributes.
One way to increase the pool of youth with a propensity to enlist is to increase the importance young adults place on patriotic values, such as “doing something for my country” and “self-sacrifice,” as well as on the importance they place on the “opportunity for adventure.”
A second way to increase propensity is to strengthen beliefs that certain valued attributes are more likely to be obtained in the military than in civilian jobs. In particular, attention should be focused on issues of patriotism, opportunities for adventure, and extrinsic motivations, including pay, vacations, and parental support and approval.
RECRUITING, RETENTION, AND ADVERTISING
We framed our treatment of advertising in terms of our discussion of behavioral theory, with its focus on propensity to enlist as a key variable. An analysis of the relationship between propensity and enlistment yielded
some interesting observations. While the proportion of youth with a propensity toward the military has decreased, those with a strong positive propensity are highly likely to actually enlist. One possible role for advertising is to help reinforce the current level of propensity among those already highly disposed to enlist. Another is for differentiation among the Services, as they compete for individuals with positive propensity for military service in general.
However, given current enlistment goals and the current level of the propensity to enlist, the military cannot meet its enlistment goals by directing recruiting efforts only toward youth with a positive propensity. Indeed, a very sizable proportion of military enlistments (46 percent) now come from individuals with prior negative propensity. Thus another role for advertising is to provide information concerning the role that military service plays in protecting and furthering the goals of society. If successful, this could serve the purpose of increasing the number of youth with a taste for military service.
An analysis of propensity data indicates that while the proportion of youth with a negative propensity has remained reasonably stable over the past two decades, there have been dramatic changes in the two subcategories making up the negative propensity group. The proportion indicating they will “probably not” enlist has decreased, while the proportion indicating “definitely not” has increased. This suggests an opportunity for advertising that would provide “taste-defining” information concerning such issues as duty to country, public service, and the noble virtues associated with military service.
A central insight is that if advertising affects enlistment decisions, it does so by first affecting propensity to enlist. Advertising can help maintain or increase propensity levels in the population of interest; other recruitment activities determine whether or not propensity is translated into an enlistment decision. Thus a key and underutilized role of military advertising is to support the overall propensity to enlist in the youth population and maintain propensity at a level that will enable greater productivity in military recruiting. It follows from this that an important part of evaluating the effectiveness of advertising is to monitor its effects on propensity.
A finding, for example, that a particular advertising campaign had no effect on enlistments leaves open two possibilities: the campaign had no effect on propensity, or the campaign did increase propensity but some other factors kept that change in propensity from being converted into increased enlistments. Being able to differentiate between these two possibilities should be of considerable value to the Services. Evaluations of the effects of advertising on propensity need to be done with care, avoiding such errors as measuring propensity immediately after exposure to an
advertising message, when the interest is, in fact, in lasting effects on propensity.
Propensity for military service has declined, with the most dramatic change being an increase in the proportion of youth responding “definitely not.” Advertising can be aimed at the potentially complementary goals of increasing yield among those with a positive propensity and changing propensity among those with a negative one. The decline in the proportion of youth with a positive propensity suggests that the military cannot rely solely on attempting to increase yield in this market but must also devote efforts to changing propensity among those with a negative one.
When thinking about military service, intrinsic factors are foremost in the minds of only about a quarter of the youth population. Youth who place low importance on duty to country tend to have low propensity for military service.
Recommendation: We recommend that:
A key objective of the Office of the Secretary of Defense advertising should be to increase the propensity of the youth population to enlist.
Advertising strategies should increase the weight given to the intrinsic benefits of military service.
The evaluation of advertising message strategies should include the monitoring of their influence on the propensity to enlist as well as trying to isolate the influence on actual enlistments. Evaluation strategies should also be based on regular surveys that track youth responses on a range of beliefs and values related to military service and the propensity to enlist.
In the final analysis, the success of an advertising effort is largely constrained by the nature and quality of the product being promoted. In the case of service in an all-volunteer military as a “product” being sold to a prospective enlistee, an essential aspect is the current and prospective military mission. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of national leadership to determine the military’s mission and to articulate that mission and the value of military service in ways that make it attractive to the public— including mothers, fathers, and prospective recruits.
Recruiting in the Civilian Labor Market
Paralleling our investigation into pay, benefits, and training in the civilian labor market, our investigation into recruiting practices also re-
vealed a high degree of variability. This variability makes it is difficult to make generalizations about recruiting practices and inducements.
One feature of the civilian market is the potential for rapid change in recruiting approaches and inducements. The need for unusual inducements appears to be closely related to the supply of qualified candidates. When the supply is tight, the effort to identify and to use perquisites that are valued by candidates increases. Often an organization’s recruiting effectiveness is altered because of a decrease in the unemployment rate, and improved results may occur without any real changes or improvements in what is offered to candidates.
The civilian sector has a variety of options at its disposal, and recruiting activities can be tailored to the candidates being recruited. For example, many of the monetary benefits (e.g., thrift plans with matching funds or stock options) that the private sector can offer are simply not available to the military Services without congressional approval. Other strategies, like attracting nontraditional candidates, are not options for the military because of existing rules about who may enlist.
One area in which military appears to compete favorably is the strategies used to reach candidates. The military Services use the same strategies (e.g., the Internet) for finding qualified candidates that civilian businesses employ. In some cases, national military advertising for new recruits penetrates a larger portion of the candidate population than is reached by any employer in the private sector.
Useful recommendations based on the above observations are difficult to make. Suggesting that the military postpone extensive recruiting until the unemployment rate falls does not take care of the need to have a continuous supply of new recruits. Similarly, the military Services, like other government jobs, will not generate any form of stock options in the foreseeable future. Nor are the Services likely to offer a nonstandardized array of potential inducements, even if congressional approval were forthcoming.
Recruitment practices and inducements in the civilian sector are characterized by high across-firm variability and by the rapid tailoring of practices and inducements to meet immediate needs.
The Services are currently using a wide range of feasible recruiting strategies. In some instances the military approach (e.g., Internet recruiting) is more extensive than similar practices in the private sector.
The Services have well-structured selection and training programs for recruiters. The Services’ recruiter selection systems, however, are opti-
mized for administrative convenience rather than for mission effectiveness. There exists in the recruiting force today huge variability in mission effectiveness. Personnel selection research suggests that marked recruiter performance gains are possible through the design of more rigorous recruiter selection systems.
The Services’ recruiter training systems provide the fundamentals of successful sales techniques but offer limited opportunities for practice and feedback. Law and policy limit the types of rewards that are available to recruiting management to increase the incentive for effective performance at recruiting duties. There has been little innovation in developing effective recruiter reward systems within existing constraints.
Conclusion: Improved recruiter selection, training, and reward processes have the potential to dramatically increase recruiter productivity
Recommendation: The Services should:
Develop and implement recruiter selection systems that are based on maximizing mission effectiveness.
Develop and implement training systems that make maximum use of realistic practice and feedback.
Explore innovative incentives to reward effective recruiting performance.
This volume examines a wide range of factors hypothesized as potentially contributing to recent or future military recruiting difficulties. Our hope is to identify a smaller set of important factors from among this broader array.
Several factors we examined did not emerge as likely contributors to current or future recruiting difficulties. First, aptitude and education requirements of military occupations are not likely to increase greatly in the aggregate. The type of individual the military has been recruiting will continue to be able to meet the training and job demands of military work in the foreseeable future. Second, there is no evidence that aptitude levels in the youth population have been decreasing or will decrease in the foreseeable future; thus there will be an adequate supply of youth with the aptitude to meet the requirements of military work. Third, demographic trends do not suggest an inability to meet recruiting demands. A decrease in the proportion of youth with characteristics that make them likely to have a positive propensity toward military service is offset by an increase in the overall size of the youth population; as a result, the num-
ber of youth with a positive propensity is expected to remain stable. Fourth, youth values and attitudes have remained quite stable in most domains, suggesting that, with key exceptions noted below, it is not the case that changes in these factors constitute a new impediment to recruiting effectiveness. Fifth, it is not the case that the civilian labor market has become an increasingly more attractive option. Enlisted military compensation exceeds civilian earnings for those with a high school education.
Two classes of factors appear linked to recruiting outcomes. The first class involves “doing more,” meaning investing more resources in traditional recruiting activities. The second class involves “doing differently,” meaning engaging in new recruiting activities or modifying the way traditional activities are carried out.
In terms of doing more, research indicates that recruiting success is responsive to additional expenditures in the domains of the number of recruiters, dollars spent on advertising, size of enlistment bonuses, dollars spent on funding subsequent education, and pay. The marginal cost of increasing recruiting effectiveness via pay is markedly higher than that for the other options.
In terms of doing differently, we make several recommendations. First, in the important domain of education, perhaps the most dramatic attitudinal and behavioral change over the past several decades is the substantial increase in educational aspirations and college attendance. We suggest that increasing mechanisms for permitting military service and pursuit of a college degree to occur simultaneously are central to recruiting success in light of the higher education aspirations of youth and their parents. Also, in view of the numbers of college dropouts and stopouts and the numbers of youth delaying the traditional activities marking the transition from adolescence to adulthood (e.g., career choice, mate choice), we suggest increasing attention to individuals who are somewhat older than the traditional target of high school seniors.
Second, in the domain of advertising, we suggest attention to three key issues. One is the balance between a focus on military service as a whole and Service-specific advertising. Advertising theory and research suggest the value of supporting overall propensity for military service in addition to Service-specific advertising. Another is a balance between a focus on the extrinsic rewards of military service (e.g., funds for college) and intrinsic rewards, including duty to country and achieving purpose and meaning in a career. While many youth are responsive to an extrinsic focus, an additional segment of the youth population sees intrinsic factors as the primary appeal of military service. A final issue is the role of parents in the enlistment decisions of their sons and daughters. Their key role suggests that attention be paid to the effects of advertising on parental perceptions of military service.
Third, in the domain of recruiting practices, we suggest that attention be paid to the selection and training of recruiters. There are substantial differences in recruiter performance, yet the process of staffing the recruiting services does not focus centrally on selecting individuals on the basis of expected productivity. We also suggest exploring options for rewarding and enhancing recruiter performance.
Recruiting is a complex process, and there is no single route to success in achieving recruiting goals. Nonetheless, we believe that progress has been made toward a better understanding of the challenge, and that useful avenues for exploration have been identified.