The World War II Veteran Advantage? A Lifetime Cross-Sectional Study of Social Status Attainment

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Smith, Irving
Segal, David R.
The impact of military service on the social status attainment of World War II veterans has been studied since the 1950s; however, the research has failed to come to any consensus with regard to the level of their attainment. Analyses have generally focused on cross-sectional data or longitudinal data without considering the effects of military service over the life course. In this study I argue that World War II veterans had greater social attainment over their lifetimes; that black World War II veterans attained more than white World War II veterans relative to their non-veteran peers; that veterans who served in the latter years of the World War II mobilization attained more than those who served in the earlier years; and that veterans born in cohorts with large proportions of veterans attained more than veterans born to cohorts with smaller proportions of veterans. Social status is measured in terms of education, income, and Duncan Socio-Economic Index. In order to test these hypotheses I use data from the 1950 through 2000 Public Use Microdata Sample. Military service clearly afforded veterans significant advantages through their early and middle working years; however, their non-veteran peers eventually did catch up. Black veterans attained more social status than their non veteran peers throughout their lives. Furthermore, the magnitude of the difference in social status attainment is greater for black veterans relative to their non-veteran peers than the difference for white-veterans relative to their non-veteran peers until very late in the life course. Additionally, peak mobilization phase veterans receive advantage although it is relatively short lived.