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  5. The Army in the Marketplace: Recruiting an All-Volunteer Force

The Army in the Marketplace: Recruiting an All-Volunteer Force

Social Science and Marketing Research

The early 1970s were a very difficult time for the U.S. military to transform from a draft-dependent to an all-volunteer force. For example, while the army anticipated it would need well more than 200,000 new recruits each year, a far smaller number of young men said they were inclined to enlist. Some influential members of the military argued that it was necessary to understand young Americans’ attitudes toward military service. In order to best focus military recruiting efforts, they claimed, it was important to identify the characteristics of those young people who were most likely to join—and of those least likely to join. For that information, the military turned to state-of-the-art social science research.

In 1971, the Department of Defense contracted Market Facts, Inc., a Chicago-based research firm, to conduct semiannual surveys of young men to gain insight into their attitudes toward employment in general and toward military service in particular. By 1975, that semiannual study had become the Youth Attitude Tracking Study (yats), a relatively small-scale standardized telephone survey of young men between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one. Over the years, that study grew larger and more sophisticated. Young women were included for the first time in 1980. In 1999, its final year, the yats was based on computer-assisted telephone interviews of more than 10,000 young men and women between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four.

Over the years, those surveys have generated a great deal of data about American youth and their military propensity (inclination to join). The yats data allow us to compare the answers of women and men, or of Hispanics, whites, and blacks, or of young people in the 1970s and young people in the recent past. It is important to remember, however, that people made choices when they wrote the survey questions. In looking at the documents below, we can learn much not only from the data the survey generated, but also from the questions the researchers chose to include and from the ways they analyzed young people’s answers.


  • Discuss the questions and choices of answers the 1975 yats surveyors offered young people. How could those choices of answers shape the outcome of the survey? How do the answers that the 1975 cohort of young people selected compare to those of your class or to those selected by other students who took the online poll?
  • How do the authors of “The Volunteer Soldier” (1972) explain why young men might enlist in the combat arms? Are there other ways one might interpret the information they offer? How might the military have used the authors’ insights?
  • Looking at the “Historical Trends” tables from the 1999 yats, what similarities or differences do you see in the reasons young men (Figure 4-1) and women (Figure 4-2) gave for joining the military? Do you see important changes over time?
  • How do the answers of the racial/ethnic groups profiled in the “Historical Trends” table compare (Table 4-2)? Are there significant differences? How might those in charge of military recruiting use such information?


A. Excerpt from Youth Attitude Tracking Survey, 1975 (pdf). Prepared for the Department of Defense by Market Facts, Inc. (Job No. 9221 OMB# 22-R-0339).

B. Excerpt from “The Volunteer Soldier: His Needs, Attitudes, and Expectations,” 1972. Study prepared by Scott M. Cunningham, Cinecom Corp., for the Department of the Army.

C. Defense Manpower Data Center, Youth Attitude Tracking Study, 1999 Propensity and Advertising Report (pdf). DMDC Report No. 2000-019.

  1. Figure 4-1. Trends in Common Reasons for Entering Military Service Among Young Men.
  2. Figure 4-2. Trends in Common Reasons for Entering Military Service Among Young Women.
  3. Table 4-2. Main Reasons for Joining Among Young Men and Women by Race/Ethnicity.