The Draft Lottery and Voluntary Enlistment in the Vietnam Era

Joshua D. Angrist

NBER Working Paper No. 3514
Issued in November 1990
NBER Program(s):   LS

A combination of voluntary enlistment, armed forces eligibility criteria, and the failure of draftees to avoid conscription jointly determined the racial composition of the Vietnam-era armed forces. Administrative data show that men with draft lottery numbers that put them at high risk of conscription are overrepresented among men who voluntarily enlisted in the military, but that the effect of the lottery on enlistment is stronger for whites than for nonwhites. Minimum Chi-Square estimates of enlistment models for the 1971 draft lottery suggest that nonwhites were more likely than whites to prefer enlistment to a civilian career. This finding appears to explain racial differences in the effect of the lottery on enlistment. Contrary to the findings of a recent congressional study, the Vietnam-era estimates presented here suggest that conscription of a relatively small number of whites and nonwhites in a manner proportional to their prevalence in the population might substantially reduce nonwhite representation in the armed forces.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w3514

Published: Journal of the American Statistical Association, (September 1991).

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