Active Component Enlisted Applicants and Accessions

Chapter 2

This chapter:
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The Services are one of the largest employers in the United States, enlisting more than 180,000 young men and women in the Active Components in FY 1999.  Recruiting a quality force is as important as ever, perhaps more important, given the smaller number of men and women in the military and the increasing sophistication of weapons and methods for fighting modern wars.  Service missions are changing to include peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts, requiring additional skills from today's men and women in uniform.           

The Youth Attitude Tracking Study (YATS), conducted annually, measures propensity to enlist.  Results from the 1999 YATS survey indicate a significant increase in propensity.  More than one-quarter (29 percent) of young men (16- to 21-year-olds) reported that they planned definitely or probably to enlist in the military in the next few years. [1]   Overall male propensity, as measured by YATS, remains below the 34-percent level of 1991; however, it has increased significantly over the 26-percent level of the past few years.  YATS results suggest rising propensity across Services, race/ethnic groups, and gender.  Propensity of 16- to 21-year-old women increased slightly from 13 percent in 1998 to 15 percent in 1999. [2]

With the prospering economy of the past few years, recruiters have experienced the greatest challenges to signing up new recruits since the advent of the All Volunteer Force.  Although access to post-high school opportunities has expanded in recent years, the 1999 YATS results suggest that the Service recruiting campaigns are having an impact on the youth of our country.  Nevertheless, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Management Policy, Alphonso Maldon, Jr., states that “aggressive recruiting efforts are required to transform interest in the military to actual enlistment commitments.” [3]

The Monitoring the Future (MtF) project, a survey of high school seniors, measures youth enlistment intentions shortly before graduation.  Results from the most recent period—1991 to 1997—have shown the lowest propensity since the MtF project began collecting data in 1975.  This time period can be characterized by a large-scale military downsizing during an economic boom.  The percent reporting that they definitely will enlist in the Armed Forces, a stable measure across time and grade-level, dropped below 5 percent and at the same time the percent declaring that they definitely would not enlist climbed above 70 percent. [4]

Results from the YATS and MtF projects differ for several reasons.  First, YATS data are more recent (1999) than the MtF data (1997).  Second, the MtF project asked high school seniors about their post-graduation plans, whereas the YATS survey sought responses from a broader range of youth (16-24 years-old).  Further, YATS and MtF data were collected at different times of the year.  While YATS was conducted in the Fall, the MtF survey was administered in the Spring, after many seniors had made decisions about their post-high school plans.  Lastly, the MtF project included one multiple choice question assessing military propensity, but YATS included several questions on the subject.  YATS respondents were directly asked whether they would join the military, using an aided prompt; aided propensity measures result in higher levels of propensity than unaided questions.  Thus, military propensity, as measured by YATS, is greater than the MtF assessment of high school senior plans to join the Service.

As the United States experiences its lowest unemployment rate in more than 30 years, [5] employers—including the military—find recruiting qualified personnel very competitive.  The increasing proportion of high school graduates attending college limits the supply of high-quality applicants to the Services.  Most high school seniors report that they plan to go to college (77 percent right after high school and 20 percent a year or more after graduating). [6]   About 66 percent of today's high school graduates actually enroll in college in the Fall after their senior year, compared to 67 percent last year and about half of high school graduates 20 years ago. [7] The increasing desire to participate in post-secondary education is important to monitor as propensity of college-bound youth is lower than for those not planning to attend college. [8]   Faced with relatively low propensity, record low unemployment rates, and increasing competition with colleges and universities, military recruiters for the Army and Air Force were not able to meet FY 1999 accession requirements, falling short by almost 7,000 new recruits.  Nevertheless, recruiters enlisted a high-quality accession cohort in FY 1999. [9]   Recruiting is likely to continue to be a challenge as long as recruiting objectives increase amid a stable pool of eligible youth and a strong economy with increasing opportunities for post-secondary education. [10]   This chapter introduces the Active Component enlistment process, followed by demographic characteristics of enlisted applicants and recruits.

[1] Enlistment propensity is measured with the Youth Attitude Tracking Study (YATS) conducted annually by the Department of Defense. Memorandum from Alphonso Maldon, Jr., Assistant Secretary of Defense (Force Management Policy), Subject:  1999 Youth Attitude Tracking Study, January 11, 2000.  

[2] Ibid.  

[3]  Ibid.  

[4]Segal, D.R., Bachman, J.G., Freedman-Doan, P., and O’Malley, P.M., “Propensity to Serve in the U.S. Military:  Temporal Trends and Subgroup Differences,” Armed Forces & Society, 25 (1999), pp. 407–427.

[5] Labor force statistics extracted from the Current Population Survey, Bureau of Labor Statistics.  (Seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 16-year-olds and older and 16- to 19-year-olds in the civilian labor force.)  URL:  

[6]Lehnus, J. and Lancaster, A.,  “Declining Interest in Military Service:  Quantitative Observations,” in Youth Attitudes Toward Military Service in the Post-Cold War Era:  Selected Papers Presented at the International Military Testing Association, San Antonio, Texas, 1996 (DMDC Report No. 97-001).  

[7]U.S. Department of Education, The Digest of Education Statistics 1999  (NCES 2000-031) (Washington, DC:  National Center for Education Statistics, 2000), Table 186.  

[8]Segal, D.R., Bachman, J.G., Freedman-Doan, P., and O’Malley, P.M., “Propensity to Serve in the U.S. Military:  Temporal Trends and Subgroup Differences,” Armed Forces & Society, 25 (1999), pp. 407–427.

[9]Memorandum from Alphonso Maldon, Jr., Assistant Secretary of Defense (Force Management Policy), Subject:  1999 Youth Attitude Tracking Study, January 11, 2000.

[10]Gilroy, C. and Sellman, W.S., Today’s Recruiting Challenge and The Economic Implications of an All-Volunteer Force, paper presented as part of Panel on Recruitment in the All-Volunteer Era:  Theory, Practice, and Results, at the 1999 Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society Biennial Conference, Baltimore, October 1999.


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