In Western cultures, the Christmas season yields a mix of secular and religious imagery as people rush to buy presents for family and friends while a growing portion of them are leaving their faiths to become “Nones” – people who have no particular affiliation. This trend is particularly strong among young people, the type of people we have been surveying for over a decade. Military personnel are typically considered more conservative than their civilian peers (and our data support this view) but does this hold for religious values and beliefs? Are young people affiliated with the military less likely to be a religious “None”?
When asked to identify their religious affiliation, 21% of civilians in our sample claim “None/agnostic/atheist” compared to 14% of academy cadets and 15% of ROTC cadets. These numbers are in line with national figures for civilians although young people are more likely to disaffiliate than older people. Not surprising, the percent of cadets who identify as Christian is higher than their civilian peers. These data are probably skewed because the samples are not random but they do imply that, like many other facets of life, military affiliation reflects other aspects of life beyond military service itself.
And as we go through another holiday season, it is interesting to contemplate the changing value of religion in society but it is important to remember that it can vary by group. Some people and groups hold on to their beliefs more than others. Future research will have to determine whether these groups – in this case military cadets – will “regress to the mean” as they say in the social sciences, that their values and beliefs will change to reflect civilian trends or if they will maintain a separate subculture.
In the October 13th New York Times article, Abandoned by U.S. in Syria, Kurds Find New Ally in American Foe , the authors state:
For five years, United States policy relied on collaborating with the Kurdish-led forces both to fight the Islamic State and to limit the influence of Iran and Russia, which support the Syrian government, with a goal of maintaining some leverage over any future settlement of the conflict. On Sunday, after Mr. Trump abruptly abandoned that approach, American leverage appeared all but gone.
It may seem like Americans are done with fighting wars associated with reducing the risk of terrorism around world, but our data show otherwise. When asked whether they favor or oppose, “Allowing U.S. military to conduct other military actions to pursue terrorists around the world”, a strong majority still support this idea (77.9%).
Like many of our other findings in this project, civilians are much less supportive of the use of force (59.9%) than academy (85.6%) and ROTC (86.6%) cadets but majorities of all three groups appear to be ready to commit to this goal.
The politics associated with pulling troops out of Syria are more complicated than simply fighting terrorism. Our data suggest that, under some conditions, political leaders can rely on the support of young adults if they are convinced that the conflicts can help end international terrorism.
A report by Mission: Readiness found that 75% of young Americans are unfit for military service, partially due to the fact that 27% of them are too overweight to join. This problem has likely worsened in the 10 years since the article was published, as obesity rates continue to rise. Our data has been used to evaluate the same issue, investigating how many men and women aged 17 to 20 abide by their respective army weight requirements. We have also found how well ROTC and academy cadets meet these standards.
Using information collected about height and weight to create BMI scores, our data found that 37.8% of young American civilians are physically unfit to serve in the army. Military cadets, on average, comply with weight standards more than civilians, as expected. The highest compliance rate in our data come from female cadets.
Seven percent of civilian females in our sample are underweight compared to less than one percent of civilian males, which largely accounts for the difference between the fitness of the male and female civilian groups. The increase in compliance to weight standards comparing civilians to military personnel is expected but scores among the cadets are not perfect either.
We also wanted to know if people are self-selecting out of the military based on their physical condition but we found no correlation of BMI and individuals’ consideration for joining the military (statistics not shown), which means that perspective members are not self-selecting themselves out due to their weight. Regardless, it will be seen whether trends in obesity will make it more difficult for the services to recruit qualified cadets.
The war in Afghanistan was launched shortly after the 9/11 attacks and has become the longest war in U.S. history, spanning almost 18 years. In November 2001 89% of Americans supported entering the war. However, as detailed by Politico, this number was cut in half by 2015, with only 42% defending America’s entrance into Afghanistan. While we know that civilian support for the Afghanistan war has generally decreased over the years, it is less known how views within military personnel groups have changed with time.
Our data finds that support for the war in Afghanistan has linearly declined by just over 20% from 2002 to 2017 in both military groups and civilians. However, military support for the war effort consistently rates at about 30% higher than civilian support, as displayed through trend lines. The difference between the groups is so profound that only the initial two years of data from civilians (68.9% and 81.1% in support) surpass the lowest point of support in military (64.7%). The data set for academy and ROTC cadets is also more linear, which may suggest that their views are more focused due to close handling of the conflict.
Why would cadets show significantly more support for the war effort when they are the ones who must put themselves in harms way? Earlier research using these data shows that military affiliation is associated with favorable attitudes toward going to war (see here). Much of the difference between the two groups can be explained by political ideology and gender. Whatever is producing these differences, there is a clear parallel in which both groups’ support has declined over time, yet the gap remains.
Military.com recently reported on the numbers of suicides attempted on defense facilities, sometimes called ‘parking lot suicides’. Specifically, they state that 260 suicide attempts have been recorded on Veterans Administration facilities. Stories of a mental health crisis have been associated with the military with the onset of the PTSD diagnosis in the 1970s. At the same time, stories of student crisis are also emerging as colleges and universities struggle to support students dealing with depression and anxiety (see this New York Times article). Which group is struggling the most? Our data (n=9,357; 2017) shows that cadets, both ROTC and academy cadets, have about the same levels of self-reported depression with 9% of cadets indicating that they have occasionally or not at all experienced depression compared to 11% of civilian students. These differences are even greater when looking at self-reports of mental health status. However, when asked to assess their mental health overall, civilian students are much more likely to say that their mental health is ‘poor’ or ‘fair’ – 7% among cadets but 31% among civilian students.
It is important to remember that all cadets are screened before joining the services which probably limits the number of people with extreme problems or issues. That said, mental health issues appear to be impacting this generation as a whole and many people joining the services bring the issues and problems associated with their generation.
A recent post from Military.com (https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/03/10/va-struggles-curb-harassment-female-veterans-medical-centers.html) suggests that female veterans are not being treated the same as their male counterparts. We do not address this issue directly with our data but did ask our sample how important, “Equality of people, regardless of gender, race, religion, etc” is to them. Selecting on veteran status, you can see that the vast majority of men and women believe it is important (94% of men and 95% of women).
n=824, 620 male veterans and 204 female veterans
The chart combines the “very important” and “somewhat important” categories. Eight-seven percent of female veterans say equality is “very important” compared to only 72% of men, suggesting that it is particularly important for female veterans. Albeit a small difference, only .5% of female veterans say that they “Don’t Know” compared to .8% of men.
While women are now officially accepted into combat roles in the armed services, they still represent a statistical minority among both service members and veterans. We will have to keep watch over gender integration beyond the extent to which they can take on different positions to include interactions among people of different genders. Our data suggest that both men and women see equality as important, so it won’t be a “hard sell” to encourage service members to treat each other with dignity and respect.
A number of people were upset with President Trump’s announcement about pulling out military support from Syria in December of 2018. According to Gallup Polls, about half of Americans supported the use of force in Syria. Their question was worded, “Do you approve or disapprove of this U.S. military action against Syria?”
We asked cadets and civilian students the same type of question. They were asked whether “The US should or should not use military action to attempt to end the conflict in Syria?” (n=2371). Not surprising, civilian students were much less supportive of the use of force than cadets. Only 21% of civilians but over 40% of ROTC or Academy Cadets supported the use of force in Syria. Interesting though, this support is less – cadets and civilians – than what Gallup is reporting. It could be because Gallup used a different question and it includes all adults, not just young people who are generally more liberal on these issues.