Service Legacy

Two alumni and Sociology faculty study the long-term effects of military service
Jemma Everyhope-Roser

Thanks to Lucky Tedrow and Jay Teachman’s NIH and NSF grants, every year a few lucky undergraduates have the opportunity to do sociological research and get paid for it.

Previous grants that have provided funding for undergraduate researchers have had a big payoff for the students. Tedrow and Teachman’s students have gone on to receive full funding for graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin, Pennsylvania State University, University of Colorado and the University of Washington.

“So they not only get this experience here,” Tedrow explains, “but it positions them for getting graduate school funding as well. And those students who have done it are doing quite well.”

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.”

Jemma Everyhope-Roser is a writer and editor in Bellingham – and the program assistant in Western’s Office of Communications and Marketing. She is also assistant editor of Glimpse, Clemson University’s research magazine.

Photos by Rhys Logan ('11)

Tedrow and Teachman often include students in their grant-funded research work. Research assistant Paul Hemez (’14, Sociology) also worked with Teachman and Tedrow as an undergraduate and will begin graduate school this summer at Bowling Green State.