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Why More Soldiers from Alaska?

The link of hunting to a propensity for military service seems logical.

by Jim DeFronzo
New findings indicate that the rate of enlistees varies around the country for reasons beyond than those popularly recognized.

Most people are aware that the armed forces have found it difficult to meet enlistment quotas. But in recent years states like Alaska, Montana and Maine have contributed enlistees far in excess of their percentage of the nation’s 18-24-year-olds, while others have fallen short. Maryland in Fiscal Year 2005, by the way, contributed enlistees in almost direct proportion to its share of the country’s 18-24 year olds.

In connection with a forthcoming book on the Iraq War, I had the opportunity to review much existing research on military enlistment. Since I have a background in criminology as well as political sociology, it occurred to me to add some additional variables to the mix used in previous studies. The new findings indicate that the rate of enlistees varies around the country for reasons beyond than those popularly recognized, such as recruits are more likely to come from rural communities, or areas with with limited economic opportunity, or where a large percentage of the work force is employed by the Department of Defense. I found that the percent of people with hunting licences in a state and measures of social disorganization, like the percent of state residents divorced or the percent who are not church adherents, tend to be better predictors of military enlistment rates than other variables like percent of a state's population that is rural, or unemployed, or employed by the DoD (these variables have weaker positive correlations to enlistment). Besides finding that the percent of state population who are hunters and that certain indicators of social disorganization are the stronger predictors of military enlistment in the years examined, another interesting, though perhaps mysterious, finding was that the strength of the social disorganization measures to enlistment seemed to increase in the years after 9/11.

Alaska and Massachusetts are examples of states usually near the extreme opposite ends of enlistment rates. Alaska in Fiscal year 2000, for example, provded about 57 percent more first-time enlistees to the armed forces than its share of the nation's 18-24-year-olds, while Massachusetts provided about 47 percent less than its share of the country's 18-24-year-olds. While the percent divorced in Alaska was 11.7 (second in the U.S.) and its percent of hunters was about 15.5 percent (8th ranked), in Massachusetts the percent divorced was one of the lowest in the country, 8.3 percent (45th), and the percent with hunting licences was about 1.1 percent (47th.). Alaska was tied for 3rd ranked in percent who were not church adherents (about 65.7 percent), while Masachussetts ranked 47th (only about 35.9 percent not church adherents).

The link of hunting to a propensity for military service seems logical. For people in states with higher levels of social disorganization, the military may be attractive as an alternate or substitute community environment (although this is only a hypothesis).

With the addition of the hunting and social disorganization variables, like percent divorced, to variables previously used in this type of research, it's possble to account for about 60 percent or more of the variation in enlistment rates among states.

Jim DeFronzo is a retired college sociology professor. His recent books on international politics are available through Studies reporting some of the research described above have been published in the December 2007 issue of The Rural Sociologist and the 2008 volume of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, The most recent paper on this topic was presented in August 2008 at the meetings of the American Sociological Association in Boston.

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This story was published on September 13, 2008.