More than 40 years ago, Lucky Tedrow (’73, Sociology; ’76, M.A., Sociology) and Jay Teachman (’74, Sociology, Anthropology) met as undergraduates in Western’s Sociology Department.
Little did they know that they’d end up working together on research that would be featured in national news publications like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
Teachman, now a professor of Sociology at Western, says that his academic interest in veterans began after he returned from military service: “I began to question why there was no research on veterans or on military service members or at least very little of it, because I was a veteran and it affected my life course. I wanted to know how it affected the life course of other people.”
Their current research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, involves testing the assumption that military services provides a sense of direction and structure to young men, deterring them from troubled behaviors (e.g. drugs, alcohol, tobacco, criminal activity).
So, the results?
It depends on your generation. WWII veterans came out of the service best off, gaining access to the college education they wouldn’t have otherwise had through the GI Bill; because there weren’t civilian assistance programs such as the Pell Grant at the time, these vets had an economic advantage.
The worst off: Vietnam vets. Education and housing loan assistance programs for civilians had developed by then, so many Vietnam veterans found themselves left out and left behind economically while civilians of similar ages had gone on to get educated and gain employment. Gulf vets seem to land somewhere in the middle – so far.
“We have 15 years of data compiled since 1997 for respondents now in their early 30s,” says Tedrow, director of Western’s Center for Social Science Instruction and the Demographic Research Laboratory. “So we don’t know what it means for when they are 50 or 60 years of age. That’s the problem with all kinds of life research: You don’t know what’s going to happen until it happens.”
Overall, Teachman says, “What we find is that veterans are less likely to engage in bad behaviors than their non-veteran counterparts, with one exception. And that’s violent crime. They are equally as likely to engage in violent crime. But car theft, drugs, burglaries, robberies, they’re less likely.”
Teachman explains that this could be ascribed to at least two factors: military training and who chooses to go into the service. Or, as he would say it: “Military service is not randomly selected.”
Moreover, military service has been shown to have a disproportionately positive effect on the life course outcomes of individuals coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Hispanics and African Americans, in particular, gain access to new opportunities.
“Veterans’ data matters,” Teachman says. “Even today, when military service affects a fraction of Americans, it is still the single largest employer of young men in the nation. Ten to 12 percent of young men serve in the military, and that’s a huge number. So the more we know about it, the better.”
Photos by Rhys Logan ('11)