Being drafted during the Vietnam War also hurt your descendents

A decade after their military service, white veterans of the draft were earning about 15 percent less than their peers who didn’t serve, according to studies from MIT economist Josh Angrist.

Now, new research suggests that the draft did more than dim the prospects of that earlier generation: The children of men with unlucky draft numbers are also worse off today. They earn less and are less likely to have jobs, according to a draft of a report from Sarena F. Goodman, an economist with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, and Adam Isen, an economist at the Treasury Department. (A copy was released by the Fed in December, but research does not reflect the opinions of the government.)

The researchers have not nailed down how, exactly, any of this is happening, nor why the disadvantage appears to be over twice as potent for sons than for daughters. But the work is valuable for showing how the circumstances of one’s parents can have lasting repercussions. This is one way that inequality persists through the generations.

That is from Jeff Guo at Wonkblog.


To my sons,

Sorry guys, I guess I should have gone to Canada.

They make some guesses about the mechanism of the impact, but it is possible that the consideration of dodging has a huge negative impact on future generations...

Maybe draft dodging was a proxy measure of IQ.

Ed, God bless you.

I was in the USAF during the war. I worked with a number of men that were drafted before or after college and served in VN. None of them were similarly held back in salary or advancement.

I recently re-read Gen. Moore's "We were Soldiers Once . . . . And Young." I read the appendix for what the veterans were doing. Most seemed to be employed in meaningful careers. However, that was very early in the war. The battalion had trained together in the States, deployed together, and was combat-effective.

Later in the war, troops were sent out to combat units as replacements. They were not welcomed by older men who had come in under the same shitty circumstances. Among all their other worries squad leaders and platoon sergeants needed to try to get the new guys effective and not get killed or wounded the first time out. And, at the end of the year commitment (when men were combat effective) the ones that got to go home all of a sudden left the field; did not meet, brief or train their replacement; went to Saigon or Danang; got on a contract airplane; and went home to no parade or support.

McNamara's application of top-down scientific management. Kinda like government "nudges" today.

"The correct spelling for the noun meaning 'person descended from a particular ancestor' is descendant, not -ent. Descendent is a less common adjective meaning 'descending from an ancestor'. Almost 15 per cent of the citations for the term in the Oxford English Corpus use the wrong spelling." Come on, Mr Cowen, must do better.

This may have more to do with the fact that people who got drafter are more likely to die, rather than having served in the military.
I.e. kids who grew up in fatherless homes because their dad's were killed in combat are less likely to have jobs. But we knew that already.

They picked a cohort with equivalent survivorship...

What about physical disabilities? Veterans are more likely to be disabled.

They started with men drafted in 1970 or later. US casualties in Vietnam were de minims after this point.

Though, I think that there's a major factor that's not accounted for in the paper. Spousal education and social class. I strongly suspect that men leaving for or returning from Vietnam frequently settled on lower-quality wives and girlfriends. Non-serving men had the opportunity to date around during prime years of attractiveness. Also returning from Vietnam subsequently lowered earning power, and therefore the ability to attract a high quality mate.

This is the only real way to square the results with the sizable quantity of evidence that demonstrates that family environment has zero statistical impact on long-term life outcomes. If it really was the case that having a father serve in a war affected long-term life outcome, it would be a monumental contradiction of decades of twin and adoption studies. Genetics are the only vector for hereditary transmission of life outcomes. The only rational conclusion is that the mother's genetics are in play.

Such an interpretation would also radically alter the recommendations we draw from the paper. On first glance this paper seems to imply that entering a war produces multi-generational social consequences. But my model would dictate that the impact it was a zero-sum re-shuffling. Veterans reproduced with low-quality mates, but that simply freed up the high-quality women for non veterans. On net society isn't any worse off today.

7,638 were killed from 1970 thru 1974...about 16% of the total. Your academic analysis can kiss my de minims ass.


They just keep on giving and giving.

"War is a crime. Go ask the infantry. Go ask the dead." Ernest Hemingway

How about asking the hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese refugees that were saved from Communist genocide?

Everybody would have been better off if the US and French weren't so desperate to cling to a pro-Western puppet state that had next to no real popular support, that they poured billions into a devastating war that polarized both sides and escalated violence.

Ho Chi Minh was a fan of Western democracy, but the US turned him away and drove the country into a brutal war; and like all wars, the maniacs and psychos gained power. And all to simply delay what was inevitable by the mid-1950s--reunification on nationalist terms.

"Everybody would have been better off if the US and French weren’t so desperate.."

Everyone would have been much better off if the Communists hadn't executed, starved and/or imprisoned millions of people who didn't agree with them.

I like it that Arjun continues to produce these Comintern lies. Ho was never a fan of Western democracy. He was a Communist from the start. The US did not turn him away. Ho drove the country to a brutal war. And the psychos, that is Ho and his friends, held power from the start.

America saved South Vietnam from the sort of brutal collectivization the North got. It gave them a generation of freedom. Like the Poles who fell to the Soviets in the end, but in 1920 were able to save themselves for one more generation.

We have just now finished paying the health care commitment to veterans of the first world war.

Estimating the economic costs of American wars (well after they end) is a favored topic for modern economists, but is not popular as wars are contemplated beforehand.

This analysis of draftee descendants is quite a stretch from the basic issue and also quite trivial to the important question of actual war costs short & long term.

Wars are very costly to those actually fighting them, paying for them, and directly encountering them physically. Political warmakers usually shelter themselves effectively from such discomforts.

Milton Friedman notably compared the economic costs of a volunteer U.S. military versus a heavily conscripted (slave) army. Ending the active U.S. Draft was Friedman's biggest accomplishment.

If the US reverted to the conscript model, it wouldn't find itself in so many conflicts/counter insurgencies/wars.

Just like it didn't get involved in Vietnam, Korea, or the First World War using conscript armies, all of which were more destructive than anything the US has committed ground forces to since 1975? Also, the US resorted to mass conscription in order to prevent a breakaway republic from forming. Really conscription has fueled war rather than the other way around historically.

Interesting. Initially I thought that it was comparing those who served with those who didn't, which could be biased by college deferments (those who attained a college deferment would have not served so one might assume that not serving was correlated with higher education which is correlated with higher earnings). But the study doesn't know whether a person served, simply whether they were called by the draft based on their birth date and those cohorts earn less.

Right. If I understand the argument, which is doubtful, the effects of actual service on the minority of the draft-eligible with "unlucky numbers" is enough to affect the results for the whole group. Seems to me like it's stretching logic a bit much.

I might trust it. I might also like to know how often a fake-draft over the same years produces similar variations.

It depends a bit on how large the sample size was but it's an interesting idea.

The study doesn't seem to control for the fact higher social and economic men were less likely to be drafted for various reasons. There's a line about how draft dodging and entering college wasn't significant enough to affect the data, but I think this is more of a start than a conclusion.

they just looked at peoples birthdays that map to the draft lottery order. so it totally controls for this.

This was my thought, too. Maybe they're not detecting what happened to people who got drafted, maybe they're detecting what kind of people were drafted in the first place. It's very cynical to suggest that the rich were able to avoid being drafted while the poor were not, but I don't think it's not a conclusion that would surprise me very much if it turned out to be true.

It would also seem fairly likely that smarter people would be better at figuring out a way to get deferred, and it wouldn't be surprising if smarter people and their children made more.

How do we know that the attempts to secure a deferment by those with "unlucky" numbers didn't lead to the adverse outcome? Maybe it lead the to stay in school too long, get married and have children early, etc.

At the time of my draft lottery year I was a college student doing chemistry research. I discovered that by eating 4+ avocados the day before your physical, you could turn your urine sugar to positive. Back in Illinois those days I didn't even know what an avocado was! My number was 54, and they pulled up to 45.

My kids are very successful due to their brains.

One of the key points of the original Angrist paper is that he uses a technique called instrumental variables to negate this selection effect. In later years -- in response to precisely this concern that the rich were able to exploit loopholes in the draft system to avoid serving -- the U.S. implemented the draft lottery. Now, I'm sure there were still ways that more well-off people could have avoided the draft but since we can say statistically that draft status is assigned quasi-randomly and there is a high correlation between one's draft status and one's chance of actually serving, we can compare wages between those more likely to serve and those less likely to serve (again, according to one's birth date) and get what is called the local average treatment effect on wages if one has served.

This is a well-established statistical technique for isolating average treatment effects while negating selection bias or omitted variable bias.

"The children of men with unlucky draft numbers are also worse off today." By "draft numbers" I assume he means lottery numbers, the system adopted when student deferments were ended. My brother, who reached the lottery age in its second year, chose to quit college and join the Air Force when his lottery number (i.e., birthday) was well below the last number selected for the draft in the prior year. The alternative, he assumed, was that he would be drafted in the Army and, in two or three months, waist deep in a rice paddy. Turns out the selective service never reached his lottery number, so he would not have been drafted. Did his time as a "volunteer" in the Air Force affect his career earnings? When he was discharged from the Air Force his college peers were well into their careers, and I don't believe he ever caught up. I attended college in the early 1970s when many Vietnam veterans were in school on the GI bill - I wasn't drafted because my lottery number was over 300. It was an odd time to be in college, very young (and naive) boys and girls in classrooms with former solders who had been in combat, horrible, violent combat. I remember the former Army captain who resided in the apartment above mine, who wandered around the apartment grounds late at night. I remember the former gunner on an army helicopter, with the sweet and petite wife and two small children, his hair long and his eyes as empty as his can of beer. None of the former soldiers ever went postal, but it was definitely a different time to be in college, the possibility of being drafted and sent to the rice paddies an ever-present fear.

I'm guessing WWII vets were better off if white due to the leftist welfare state created for them post-war. Conservatives fought hard to end that welfare state for Vietnam vets, and that is an ongoing subject of political debate. Ironically, it was WWII vets who were often most vocal in arguing Vietnam vets did not deserve GI Bill benefits or recognition.

As Trump puts it, Vietnam vets are losers.

I remember vfw posts that refused Vietnam vets entry, and I just knew Vietnam vets. And today Vietnam vets still remember how the vfw treated them, rejecting the vfw efforts to recruit them to keep vfw posts alive.

But on balance didn't the Vietnam vets have access to more post-war benefits than those who were in WWII?

The first paragraph is a joke, right? An awful lot of welfare state programs that existed in 1975 didn't exist in 1945; can you name a single welfare state program that exited in 1945 that didn't still exist and hadn't expanded in scope in 1975?

We don't actually know that this effect didn't exist for WWII vets, too. If it didn't, the difference is much more likely to have to do with the minority status and revilement of Vietnam vets as compared to WWII vets.

It's mulp-land. He lives in a different reality.

Mulp-land has a reality?

Both your title and Wonkblog's title are somewhat misleading. While Angrist seems to study actual draftees, the study reported by Guo isn't about actual draftees, much less those who served in Vietnam, but about what logical deductions can be drawn from looking at those who got unlucky numbers in the 1969 lottery (perhaps later ones), which include those who were actually drafted,which includes the group of draftees who got sent to Vietnam;

Angrist includes this in his conclusion: "New ndings for more recent years show
surprisingly rapid convergence in veteran and nonveteran earnings: by the early
1990s, there was no longer a substantial Vietnam-era conscription penalty." That fact would seem to undermine the argument described by Guo that there are intergenerational effects.

Father drafted > mother experiences high stress/anxiety/depression> Epigenetic transference to offspring

Maybe it's simpler than that:

Father deployed > mother lonely > knocked up by some no account drifter > low quality offspring

"I ain't no fortunate son."

Haven't read the studies, but the most likely cause is (a) soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, who have (b) children who experience "transgenerational trauma," such as elevated mental health problems. Here is a summary of some of the research:

"Transgenerational traumatization (may be referenced as secondary traumatization) has been demonstrated in the study of Vietnam veterans and their children (Rosenheck & Fontana, 1998).

Price (2007) concluded that Vietnam veterans with combat experience and development of symptoms of PTSD had displayed an increase in violent behavior, resulting in their children having higher risk for behavioral, academic and interpersonal problems. Compared to children of veterans without symptoms PTSD, parents who are veterans with symptoms of PTSD viewed their children as
more depressed, anxious, aggressive, hyperactive, and delinquent. Price also found that Vietnam’s veterans who had combat-related symptoms of PTSD; their children had difficulty in establishing and maintaining friendships. Additionally, the research found that such children exhibited impairment in concentration at school. Price suggested that these symptoms may have been the product of the
children concentrating on their parents’ difficulties or experiencing the response of their parents to symptoms such as nightmares.

Adolescent children of Vietnam veterans with symptoms of PTSD displayed poorer attitudes toward school, increased negative attitudes toward their father, and increased symptoms of depression and anxiety (Price, 2007). Adolescent children of Vietnam veterans, who developed combat-related
symptoms of PTSD, had difficulty with psychological and behavioral issues (Price). One study compared children of Vietnam veterans, who experienced concrete and violent actions and atrocities with those who did not found there were twice as many children with serious behavioral problems (Rosenheck & Fontana, 1998)."

"I volunteered for the Army on my birthday
They draft the white trash first, 'round here anyway"

Copperhead Road

Vietnam taught him some useful skills, based on the last stanza:

I done two tours of duty in Vietnam
I came home with a brand new plan
I take the seed from Columbia and Mexico
I just plant it up the holler down Copperhead Road

Yes, but those particular skills aren't likely to show up as income reported to the IRS.

A lot of theories here, but the most straight forward would seem to be that those who were drafted or volunteered for another service to avoid Vietnam (joining the National Guard/Coast Guard, various Police Forces, etc) missed out on 4 to 6 years of private sector earnings potential and work experience. This led to their eldest son's being more likely to be born into a poorer family. Poorer families will, on average, have less opportunities for success.

The study seems to look at people who were just called to the draft, regardless of whether they served or not. Alot of the comments here seem to assume what is being measured here is the effect of service.

Actually what the study indicates is that if you are unlucky enough to get a bad number in a purely random lottery, you are probably unlucky in other areas as well. The study effectively measures luck. Of course, most educated Americans don't believe in luck.

An alternative explanation is that if you take any two binary groups across two dimensions, group A and group B, and group 1 and group 2, then for reasons of pure randomness the groups won't divide into four equal quadrants. Either people in both A and 1 will wind up outnumbering people in both A and 2, or vice versa; either people in both B and 2 will wind up outnumbering people in both B and 1 or vice versa. Not every observed phenomenon has to have a cause. Most educated Americans don't understand that.

"The study seems to look at people who were just called to the draft, regardless of whether they served or not. Alot of the comments here seem to assume what is being measured here is the effect of service."

Even those who had low lottery numbers but weren't drafted almost certainly reacted to the likelihood that they might be drafted. So, the two cohorts were not identical.

Randomness of distribution still seems like a perfectly valid null hypothesis though.

This is just statistics 101. If you have a sample and two processes are applied to split it two separate times in two, one uses hypothesis testing to determine whether it is plausible that a given observed pattern is consistent with randomness or not. This is what empirical social science is all about. It's not much of an argument to say that the pattern observed in this paper is generated by randomness without considering the sample size, type I error and the specific methodology.

So the vets' offspring didn't make as much money, at least they're not under the thumb of the invading Vietnamese.

Daughters were less effected than sons. Sons learn to be men from their fathers, daughters learn to be women from their mothers. Vietnam hurt many men emotionally and their sons followed suit.

"...nor why the disadvantage appears to be over twice as potent for sons than for daughters..."

Nah, that's easy. Sociobiologists figured that one out long ago, while asking why parents invested more in educating sons and endowing them with wealth. Daughters' marriage prospects depend mainly on their beauty, which does not improve much with education. Sons' marriage prospects depend on their earning potentials. So if Vietnam vets were disadvantaged, that meant they had less wealth to transfer to their sons, which meant the sons ended up with less earning potential than wealthier competitors. By contrast, the vets' daughters were nearly as pretty as the daughters of non-veterans. Maybe they went short of a few fancy hairdos or had to wear a plainer dress to the prom-- not enough to make a big difference. So they married about as well on average as their wealthier competitors.

Although ethnics of middle-eastern ancestry had invented the custom of giving girls nose-jobs as high-school graduation gifts back in the 1970's, I don't believe the current fad for giving girls breast-augmentation surgery developed until the 1990's. In any case, giving girls cosmetic surgery while giving boys cars or whatever just proves that beauty is critical for the girls and wealth is critical for the boys.

Can't leave this alone. :-) There's one possible source of systemic bias in the study if I understand it. They are looking at wages reported to SSA. I think it's true that wages paid to GIs have always been lower than in the civilian world, especially in the early years when compensation reflected the draft (my pay as an E-2 was $80 a month in 1965). Much of the compensation of the volunteer military was in fringe benefits, retirement after 20 years, etc. etc. These benefits were not reported to SSA, so SSA figures would make it appear that members of the military were paid less than their civilian counterparts.

I'd suggest this factor may account for at least some of the results reported in the study.

Interesting... Many of us took full advantage of the generous GI Bill (some state schools offered free tuition), got educated and did way better than those who didn't serve... Does the study account for those who would have been drafted in the Army but instead went into the Navy and Air Force? One of our friends who was drafted drove a nail through the palm of his hand onto a board and showed up for a physical the next day... They let him out.. I wonder where he shows up in the study?

In the highly competitive baby-boom generation, those that didn't serve had a two to four year head start over those that did serve. I took a four year enlistment to save my skin. It worked, but I was behind. There was an oversupply of college grads. The military had to put them into jobs where, though underutilized, they wouldn't be disruptive. On a statistical basis, this results makes sense to those that lived it. Those born during the war were in great demand, as they were a small cohort going into a growing economy. The early bird got the worm not because the alarm was set, it just got the shell break first. Boomers themselves rarely benefited from their numbers. Too many always showed up. If your Mom didn't shop early for your school clothes, they'd be out of your size.

I don't know... did they try to run the same number for kids whose dads have been in prison for a year or two for non violent crimes?
You get absence of father figure and a father who comes back probably changed and not for the better. Maybe that has an impact...

I was drafted and consider it to have been the worst thing that has ever happened to me and I have survived cancer. At that I was very lucky. Soft job not on a base, etc. Nothing objectively traumatic but a horrible disruption in a very satisfactory life up to then. Very traumatic. I have never seen an organization as corrupt as the US Army. Everybody playing an angle raking off anything not nailed down. I learned a lot I didn't want to know and joined in to survive. My cushy job cost me a bottle of whiskey. A totally worthless officer corps was in charge of this travesty. No wonder we lost the war. Example: at the end of basic training we had to turn in our guns. Our sergeant inspected them to see if they were "clean." (They were reissued the next day to the next victims whose first duty was to "clean" them so it didn't really matter what condition they were in.) Catch 22 - the sergeant wanted $20 (equal to $200 today) to pass them otherwise you got to keep cleaning your gun forever. I paid ASAP and departed. Imagine this 24/7/365. Trust me, you can't. Chickenhawks are the embodyment of evil.

Damn. I'm sorry that was the experience you got, Bill.

>No wonder we lost the war.

How so?

Soldiers serving in Vietnam were exposed to a variety of chemical weapons (e.g., Agent Orange).

There are known reproductive health consequences to exposure to these types of chemicals.

Some of their children undoubtedly suffered adverse health consequences which could impact their incomes.

Exposure to Agent Orange is suspected to lower IQ, and possibly through epigenetic to the descendents.

"VAO concluded that there were methodologic problems, ... TCDD was correlated significantly with the memory quotient from WMS, the verbal IQ from WAIS-R, and the Benton test of visual memory"

"At a Children’s Health Meeting
in 2000 sponsored by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Jerry Heindel reported on several studies of pregnant women who had consumed several meals of PCB-contaminated fish per month during pregnancy and who gave birth to infants with small but detectable learning and behavioral deficits. The children with the highest exposure averaged six points lower in IQ compared to children with lower levels of exposure."

Selection bias. Draftees where those who did not have college deferments or rich, well connected parents who got them into the National Guard or some other mitigation scheme. This population then skews the earnings for the none drafted group. Go to any other country that has mandatory military service like Turkey or South Korea and run the same comparison. There, everyone knows children getting out of military service there will disproportionately be from rich political families.

...draft dodging markets in everything....

The identification in the paper is based on draft eligibility, not whether they were actually drafted.

Well, those who served are more likely to have sons who are at least amenable to military service and skew conservative. Only to run up against a bunch of draft dodgers who took over the universities as professors. Professors and administrators who have systematically altered the universities to be hostile to men, men amenable to military service and both sexes who skew conservative.

This goes double for the "elite" schools. Perhaps someone should look into the admittance of the offspring of Vietnam era soldiers to Ivy League schools? Given what we've learned about admissions, a father serving or showing up as receiving military pension/ VA disability might be a mark against an applicant.

Unless I missed it, they made a critical mistake. The II-S student deferment for those enrolled in college did not go away until 1972. Thus those eligible for the lottery in 1969 - 71 were those I-A young men who were not in college, a group one would expect to have a lower expectation of lifetime earnings. My experience at the time (I enrolled for the draft in 1970) was that the smarties did not get drafted.

I recall reading an article in Sports Illustrated in the mid-1970s about Pittsburgh Steeler running back Rocky Bleier that emphasized that he was the only Vietnam combat draftee vet in the NFL -- I think I have his distinctiveness right. (Annapolis's Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach spent a year in Da Nang commanding a supply base before beginning his spectacular NFL career.)

Bleier lost part of his right foot in combat in Vietnam, but came back and gained over 1,000 yards rushing in 1976 and has 4 Super Bowl rings.

My impression from this -- perhaps generalizing too freely -- was that getting drafted and winding up in Vietnam was something that popular individuals could largely avoid -- Bleier being an exception -- and that it was a pretty bad thing to have happen to you. Bleier's happy ending was exceptional enough that they made a TV Movie of the Week about him in 1980.

I think only one major league baseball player has ever been killed in combat, although the great Christy Matthewson died (slowly) from poison gas training exercise in Europe shortly after the Armistice.

My impression is that well-known athletes drafted into the military in the mid-century typically were assigned duties that kept them away from the pointiest end of the spear. A striking exception, however, was Ted Williams, the most famous active baseball player, having to be a fighter pilot in the Korean War in his 30s.

More damage done by a Democrat War of Choice.

Re: "The researchers have not nailed down how, exactly, any of this is happening, nor why the disadvantage appears to be over twice as potent for sons than for daughters."

The author had hinted at the possible cause without realizing it. Today I woke up with two words in my mind, Fragile X. Reviewing what I was thinking yesterday it clicked that Agent Orange was widely used by the US military in Vietnam. Agent Orange appears to be able to create or sensitize Fragile X carriers,

"We present four cases of fragile X premutation carriers with early neurological symptoms, including symptoms consistent with multiple sclerosis (MS) and fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS). Each patient had significant exposure to one or more environmental neurotoxicants that have documented neurotoxicity (i.e. hexachlorocyclopentadiene or C56, Agent Orange, and 2,4- or 2,6-toluene diisocyanate and dichlormate). ... Approximately 1:130–250 females and 1:250–810 males carry the premutation (Hagerman, 2008). ... Psychiatric symptoms are common in FXTAS, especially as movement symptoms become prominent, with anxiety, mood, and cognitive disorders having been reported " "It is an inherited cause of intellectual disability especially among boys. ... Individuals with FXS may present anywhere on a continuum from learning disabilities in the context of a normal intelligence quotient (IQ) to severe intellectual disability, with an average IQ of 40 in males who have complete silencing of the FMR1 gene."

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