Veteran’s Day occurs every year on November 11th in the US to mark the 11th month, of the 11th day, at the 11th hour when World War I ended. The day is marked with events across America, especially at places like Arlington National Cemetery where President Biden appeared this year. Do young people appreciate the military in the same ways as their parents? Do they have pride in the women and men who serve or have served in the armed forces?
We have asked our sample of young people their attitudes toward service members for many years. Here, we emphasize findings from 2017 to 2021. When asked how much they agreed with the statement, “I am proud of the men and women who serve in the military”; a full 97% of respondents agreed strongly or somewhat agreed with it. Asked about a different statement, 96% agreed that “I have confidence in the ability of our military to perform well in wartime.” These numbers are quite positive!
Our data confirm an uproariously positive attitude toward the military, even among civilian respondents—a group whose college-attending grandparents in the 1960’s and 1970’s would have shown less support for.
Technically, these data do vary significantly by military status (statistics not shown). For instance, only 66.5% of civilian respondents said they agree strongly (exclusively, not including somewhat agree) that they are confident in military performance during wartime compared to 83.3% of ROTC and 74.5% of academy cadets. There may be some tension in these findings but, overall, young Americans in colleges and universities clearly support the troops as we move past another Veterans Day.
Two major social institutions occupied the American public for the past 20 years—the military and the media. The military had been at war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. The media splintered into various forms including mass, social, and legacy media along with alternative, personalized, and fake news.
We have 20 years of data starting in 2002 asking American college students including civilian, ROTC, and Academy cadets: “If you had to choose only one information media source for yourself about the military, what would it be (write in anything you like but please be specific–don’t simply put “the internet” or “a newspaper”)?” Rather than a laundry list, we left the question open-ended. We then coded 10,501 news source responses into 57 categories from ABC News and BBC to USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.
Overall, you might be surprised by the large number of Others. Others is high because in our coding it became necessary as a catchall category for a huge range of specific media sources such as 60 Minutes; the Huffington Post; War on the Rocks; non-fiction books; Duffleblog; and family members among a host of popular but also obscure others. In the last 10 years the category has included more specific examples of social media such as Instagram and Twitter. Also, you might be surprised that Millennials and Gen Z are low on social media and internet consumption. But remember, the internet and social media are young. The chart above tracks the top ten single sources over 20 years. Now the picture becomes clearer for the generations as sources are seen to rise and decline over the first quarter of the 21st century.
The Other (red line) sources have been rising since 2014 and have overtaken all media sources. Again, Other sources of media now include Instagram and Twitter among others. It shows how news sources have splintered even more for undergraduates. The New York Times (brown dash) has dropped off dramatically since 2014. Fox News (purple line) peaked in 2005 and has dropped off and stabilized in the last decade. NBC Nightly News (blue dotted-dash line) crashed and burned in 2017—about the time a tweet by President Trump chastised them as “fake news.” BBC (orange line) showed promise from 2013 to 2017 and then fizzled with NBC Nightly News. CNN (gray line) started out popular with the century, fell and rose, and then crumpled dramatically as a military media source since 2014. Social Media (dark dotted line) and the internet (light blue line) both blast off in 2016 and are moving at the same pace with Other sources (of course these sources are somewhat commingled). The Military Times (green line) began rising in 2014. Likewise, the Army Times (dark blue line) has been somewhat erratic with some upward movement in recent years. Both latter have an internet presence now and should continue in popularity. They will compete for elbow room in the social media space with an array of sources as they all seek to inform American youth about military matters. Where do you get your news about the military?
Many colleges and universities around the country are finishing up their graduation ceremonies this month. Like their civilian peers, cadets study toward the completion of their college degrees ranging from anthropology to zoology. We have collected an immense amount of data regarding the college student experience among civilian students and military cadets that have not been published.
Below are some fresh findings examining the relative stresses among cadets and civilians. Here, we asked respondents to tell us how true different aspects of student life were for them, ranging from 1 “Not true for me” to 2 = “Somewhat true of me”, and 3 “Very true for me”. The typecast of cadet life appears to be true, at least among military academy cadets who report the most stress dealing with their academic and non-academic workload (Table 1). They are closest to true on every item in the survey. These stresses seem confined to academy cadets and the average stress scores for ROTC cadets seem pretty similar to civilian college students.
Military Academy Cadets
Keeping up grades
Balancing school, work and social life
Feel like level of classes too difficult
Schools makes me feel physically and mentally tired
Table 1. College Stress Levels by Military Affiliation, 2002-2017 (pre-pandemic)
Overall, it does appear that graduates from military academies such as West Point and the Naval and Air Force academies experience more strain in their college careers than their civilian and even ROTC comrades. But is the stress worth it? With our other data, we suggest that the answer is, ‘yes’. When we asked how satisfied respondents were with, “Your college learning experience,” the majority of all groups responded positively. However, academy cadets showed more satisfaction with their education than students in the other groups with 91% saying they were satisfied or completely satisfied with their college learning experience compared to 88% of ROTC cadets and 89% of civilians.
All college students struggle to complete their college education. Cadets have the extra burden of the work and training associated with being an officer in the military. Our research shows that these added burdens do not detract from the positive experiences associated with cadet training.
Congratulations to all the students who are completing their college education this Spring!
The Russian invasion of Ukraine was not a surprise given the recent build-up of troops around that country. Analysts and political leaders have been concerned that this might happen a long-time ago. Given the gravity of the situation, we went back to data collected before any of the recent build up of troops. We asked members of our sample how much they agreed that ‘Russia is expansionist’ with responses ranging from Agree strongly to Disagree strongly, on a four-point scale. There was also a ‘No opinion’ option.
These data only include responses from our survey conducted between 2012 and 2016. Three trends are discernable: First, most of the 3,055 young adults (60%) asked the question agreed that Russia is expansionist. Second, our cadets were much more likely to agree with this statement; 65% said that they believe it to be true, compared to only 41% of civilians. Third, belief that Russia is expansionist has increased between these dates (data not shown).
Agree Russia is Expansionist
Disagree Russia is Expansionist
Perceptions of Russia being an Expansionist Power by Military Affiliation, 2012-2016
It is interesting to note that more than 40% of civilians in our sample had no opinion on the matter. Perhaps the cadets are more likely to follow news related to defense matters relative to their civilian peers. Whatever the cause, it is clear that the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 was no surprise to the people in our study.
According to the sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), differences in a society result from the three Ps: power, personal wealth, and prestige. While power is political and wealth is economic, prestige is socio-cultural. It results from subjective judgements people attribute to people or groups of people. For example, jobs that groups of people occupy have prestige assigned to them and thus become stratified in society—not viewed or treated as equal. This post reviews occupational prestige comparing cadets and civilians, emphasizing the relative prestige of military officers among these groups.
The study of occupational prestige rankings dates back almost 100 years (see Grusky, 2001; Nakao and Treas, 1994). Donald J. Treiman’s book Occupational Prestige in Comparative Perspective (Academic Press, 1977) offered one of the first comprehensive studies comparing perceived prestige rankings of jobs and occupations across nations including the United States. In the book, the top five occupations ranked on a scale from one to 100 include physician, Supreme Court judge, college president, astronaut, and lawyer (cited in Henslin, 2019). For sixty other countries the top five order is college president, Supreme Court judge, and astronaut. Physician and college professor are tied for fourth. The bottom three in the U.S. are street sweeper, shoe shiner, and janitor and for the other countries shoe shiner and garbage collector and street sweeper are tied for second on the bottom. Later studies in the U.S. located physicians, college professors, lawyers, dentists, architect, and bankers in the top five with newspaper vendor at the bottom (National Opinion Research Center, 2016; Smith et al., 2019 cited in Schaefer, 2022).
Unfortunately, in almost all the earlier studies, “military officer” or “soldier” is not included as a coded occupational classification system in the U.S. Bureau of the Census (Nakao and Treas, 1994:8) in the prestige rankings. Scholars continued to leave out the military in the 2000’s despite the suspension of the draft and the military being all-volunteer (Frederick, 2010). By the way, “Sociologist” as an occupation, has ranked in the top 10 in at least one study (Smith and Son, 2014 cited in Giddens et al., 2020).
We asked college undergraduates to rank 16 professions from most prestigious (#1) to least prestigious (#16). In our case, the lower the score (the mean) the higher the ranking. The top 10 are listed in Table 1. The data covers a total of nine years from 2008 to 2016. The table below shows physicians continue to rate the highest with military officer, lawyer, diplomat, and university professor rounding out the top five (see Overall Mean score). This is consistent with the Harris Poll of roughly the same period.
Profession / Occupation
Table 1. Occupational Prestige Rankings among Military Cadets and Civilian College Students
Next, we wanted to see if differences exist across our three undergraduate groups. In this case civilian undergraduates and the two groups destined to be actual military officers once they graduate—ROTC and military academy cadets. The findings in the table above show significant similarity for the three groups—ROTC, Civilian, and Military Academies undergraduates. Civilian undergraduates are strikingly similar in prestige rankings to their military-affiliated peers. Of some interest, for all three groups physicians remain at the top for all three groups. But. For civilians, lawyers are perceived as slightly more prestigious than military officers. And engineers crack the top five for ROTC cadets and civilians. Most striking, civilian undergraduates with limited or no military affiliation show markedly similar status rankings as their military affiliated peers. Treiman’s (1977) notion appears to hold—perceptions of the prestige hierarchy hold across numerous subgroups in societies. In the present case, showing no notable gap between military-affiliated and civilians.
Croteau, David and William Hoynes. 2019. Experience Sociology, NY: McGraw Hill Education, pp. 343-344.
Frederick, Carl. 2010. A Crosswalk for Using Pre-2000 Occupational Status and Prestige Codes with Post-2000 Occupation Codes. Center for Demography and Ecology, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin. Available online here.
Harris Poll, The. 2014. Doctors, Military Officers, Firefighters, and Scientists Seen as Among America’s Most Prestigious Occupations. The Harris Poll (September 10). Available online here.
Giddens, Anthony, Mitchell Duneier, Richard P. Appelbaum, and Deborah Carr. 2020. Introduction to Sociology (12th Edition). NY: W.W. Norton & Company. Pp. 248-249.
Grusky, David B. (ed.) 2001. Social Stratification in Sociological Perspective. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Henslin, James M. 2019. Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Nakao, Keiko and Judith Treas. 1994. “Updating Occupational Prestige and Socioeconomic Scores: How the New Measures Measure up,” Sociological Methodology, 24:1-72.
National Opinion Research Center, 2016. General Social Surveys, 1972-2014: Cumulative Codebook. Available online here.
Schaefer, Richard T. 2022. Sociology: A Brief Introduction (14e). NY McGraw Hill, pp. 182-183.
Treiman, Donald J. 1977. Occupational Prestige in Comparative Perspective. New York: Academic Press.
Opinion trends about the war in Afghanistan appeared in one of our previous posts from 2019. Since America and its allies have pulled out of Afghanistan, the data are worthy of another look. The previous post showed that civilians lost their support of the war as far back as 2010 but cadets continued their support going into 2019. So, what has changed?
Our newest data includes surveys from 2017 and 2021. It still shows that cadets (ROTC and academy) are much more supportive of the war in Afghanistan than their civilian peers. They were asked how supportive they are of, “Allowing the U.S. military to conduct further military action in Afghanistan.” Fifty-eight percent of cadets but only 46% of civilians said they ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ favor the war.
The intersection of military status and political party may help us to see how much of these opinions derive from the military affiliation or political values. Do political values drive people’s opinions about this war or does military status trump political positions? To answer this question, we looked at the intersection of military status (cadet or civilian) and political affiliation (Democrat, Republican, or Other).
It appears that identifying as a Republican is strongly associated with support for the war, regardless of military status. In fact, support for the war among civilian Republicans is a bit higher than their military counterparts but not by much (73% compared to 70%). Support among students identifying as Democrats drops significantly, especially among civilian Democrats. In this case, being associated with the military has a strong impact on favoring the war with 46% of Democratic cadets but only 33% of Democratic civilians favoring the war. A similar pattern emerges among people who claim neither Democrat nor Republican status although only minorities of both groups reporting support for it.
These findings reflect the current rhetoric on the war as President Joe Biden, a civilian Democrat, defending his decision to pull out of Afghanistan while Republicans deride his choice. Both groups appear to be influenced by the value systems associated with their status in society. It also appears that being associated with the military influences individuals beliefs, at least among Democrats and those with other political affiliations.
“…ask what you can do for your country.” So said John F. Kennedy is his Presidential Inauguration speech just over 60 years ago on January 20, 1961. Kennedy may have been inspired by and building on William James’s 1910 essay “The Moral Equivalent of War.” Ultimately, JFK created the Peace Corps with Presidential Executive Order 10924. President Johnson followed with the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program—the domestic Peace Corps. Military sociologists have promoted national service as well. Morris Janowitz argued in his 1983 book The Reconstruction of Patriotism: Education for Civic Consciousness (University of Chicago Press) that patriotism had been hijacked by xenophobes and militarism and civic obligations through service needed a comeback. Later that decade, Charles C. Moskos, in his book A Call to Civic Service: National Service for Country and Community (Free Press, 1988) had a vision for community engagement through active citizenship obligations. George H.W. Bush signed into law the National and Community Service Act in 1990. President Clinton moved forward with the Corporation for National and Community Service which still exists today. George W. Bush created the Freedom Corps in 2002. Stanley McCrystal, a retired Army General has consistently appealed for national service laying out his points in a 2017 Time.com article titled “Every American Should Serve For One Year”. President Biden has yet to appoint a CEO to the Corporation for National and Community Service.
The most recent Gallup Poll in November 2017 of Americans shows, surprise, surprise, the country is evenly split on national service, although, men and republicans actually favor national service more than women and democrats. Our data above has tracked university students and academy cadets over 20 years. Our college students and cadets specifically show a similar split as Americans more broadly. More, they are consistent over the past 20 years. However, there is a sex gap. More of them favor men doing national service than women doing national service. But that gap may be narrowing during the 2020s compared to the last two decades.
What can you do for your country? The answer to this question continues to be debated. Our data provides some insights into what drives our varied thoughts on the matter.
We have reported on race issues in previous posts. This one comes after the protests resulting from the deaths of George Floyd and other African Americans in the US. Civilians and cadets were asked how concerned they are personally about race relations.
This graph clearly shows that recent incidents have had a big impact on concerns over race in America today. Prior to the death of George Floyd, only 44% of our respondents said that they were Very or Somewhat Concerned about race relations. After this event, it shot up to 72%. Clearly, our data show that the race-related events occurring in the summer of 2020 have impacted feelings about race relations in the US. More data will be collected to determine whether this is a long-term trend regarding attitudes toward race in America today.
Political Analyst Gerard Lameiro predicted a split of the Republican Party in 2019, as two major systems of contradictory thoughts are emerging between social and economic conservatives. Military status is almost always associated with conservative ideals, and very few analysts account for the impact service may have on political ideology. By looking at the intersection of military status and political party, we can theorize which of these two memberships has a stronger impact on an individual’s viewpoint.
When comparing civilian and military cadet responses to questions about hot-button issues, such as gun control and abortion, our data shows that people in the Democratic Party show more consistent responses to these questions than people in the Republican Party. The Democratic group differs no more than 7.5% between civilians and cadets on topics of gun control, abortion, homosexuality, and affirmative action. They are consistently more liberal than republicans, and remarkably similar. The Republican group, on the other hand, diverges by about 25% on three of the four issues. On all topics presented, cadet Republicans share a more traditional viewpoint than their civilian counterparts.
Why are military Republicans more socially conservative than their civilian Republican peers? Perhaps traditional Republicans are more drawn to military values and lifestyle than progressive Republicans, causing an over-representation of traditionalist thought. Thought polarization would also explain this phenomenon, suggesting that those entering the military gradually develop more stringent traditionalist beliefs as they are mostly surrounded by conservative Republicans. This explanation, however, does not account for why Democrats are steadfast in their views of social issues regardless of military status.
The concept of intersectionality reminds us that people hold multiple statuses, making it difficult to stereotype them. In our sample, both military and civilian Democrats follow the wider party’s values, while Republicans differ by military status. Perhaps, as suggested by Dr. Lameiro, this indicates that the Republican Party encompasses a wider variety of acceptable viewpoints, allowing military status to intersect with political party, therefore affecting stances on social issues.
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.