Military Service and Male Veterans’ Civic Engagement

Sven Wilson portrait Photography by Alyssa Lyman/BYU

How does military service affect male veterans’ civic participation?

BYU professor & chair of the Department of Political Science, Sven Wilson recently published a paper in the journal Armed Forces & Society showing that military service has historically predicted greater civic involvement later in life.

Wilson and coauthor William Ruger of the Charles Koch Institute published “Military Service, Combat Experience, and Civic Participation,” which examines the relationship between military service, combat experience, and civic engagement. The researchers stated the goal of their study: “We wanted to see whether veterans, especially those with combat experience, are more or less active in their communities.”

Wilson and Ruger looked at data from the National Survey of Families and Households from 1987–88 and found that veterans are more engaged civically than other men across all the major wars of the 20th century.

The researchers analyzed responses from 2,185 men aged 30–69 who were divided into three groups: nonveterans, noncombat veterans, and combat veterans. The respondents indicated their civic participation from a list of 15 kinds of organizations.

Using data from the national survey, the researchers found that the likelihood and intensity of group participation is higher among veterans than other men and that combat veterans have the highest level of participation. Wilson and Ruger found that combat veterans were just as likely to participate as noncombat veterans in service, youth and sports groups.

Christie Allen for BYU news reported that, “According to survey data, male veterans who served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War were significantly more likely than male nonveterans to join civic groups. They also on average joined 21% more groups and had a 19% higher rate of participation than nonveterans, even when researchers controlled for veterans’ increased educational opportunities, which are known to boost civic activity.”

Read the full article by Christie Allen on BYU news.