Dodging the Vietnam draft

What percentage of draft eligible men did not, or would not, join the US military despite being drafted? How many men's enlistment in the military ultimately depended on the outcome of the lottery? I will let you ponder these questions for a moment, and put the answer under the fold...

The numbers come from Angrist's 1990 AER paper (published paper, working paper - both free access), with the table being adapted from the Imbens/Wooldridge lecture 5.

Whether someone was drafted was randomly determined (Angrist has more details on the Vietnam lottery). Now, to make sense of the table above:

A 'never-taker' is someone who does not serve in the military, regardless of the draft lottery outcome. A startling (at least to me) 69% falls in this category - in other words, 7 out of 10 of men in the draft pool did not/ would not have served regardless of whether they were drafted or not.

An 'always-taker' is the exact opposite: he would serve if drafted, and volunteer to serve if not drafted. (note here is that 'always-takers' may not have volunteered in the absence of the draft - many young men at high risk of being drafted may have volunteered to take advantage of the better terms offered to volunteers compared to draftees). The proportion of always-takers was 19%.

A 'complier' is someone who would serve if drafted, but not volunteer to serve otherwise. A mere 12% falls in this category, meaning that only 1 in 8 men in the draft pool served (or not) depending on the lottery outcome.

[For completeness, a defier is defined as someone who chooses not to serve if selected, while he actually volunteers to serve if not selected. Defiers are simply assumed away, and reasonably enough too]

Wikipedia has some more background information:

The large cohort of Baby Boomers who became eligible for military service during the Vietnam War also meant a steep increase in the number of exemptions and deferments, especially for college and graduate students. This was the source of considerable resentment among poor and working class young men, who could not afford a college education.

As U.S. troop strength in Vietnam increased, more young men were drafted for service there, and many of those still at home sought means of avoiding the draft. For those seeking a relatively safer alternative to the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, or the Air Force, the Coast Guard was an option (provided one could meet the more stringent enlistment standards). Since only a handful of National Guard and Reserve units were sent to Vietnam, enlistment in the Guard or the Reserves became a favored means of draft avoidance. Vocations to the ministry and the rabbinate soared, because divinity students were exempt from the draft. Doctors and draft board members found themselves being pressured by relatives or family friends to exempt potential draftees.

According to the Veteran's Administration, 9.2 million men served in the military between 1964 and 1975. Nearly 3.5 million men served in the Vietnam theater of operations. From a pool of approximately 27 million, the draft raised 2,215,000 men for military service during the Vietnam era. It has also been credited with "encouraging" many of the 8.7 million "volunteers" to join rather than risk being drafted.

Of the nearly 16 million men not engaged in active military service, 96% were exempted (typically because of jobs including other military service), deferred (usually for educational reasons), or disqualified (usually for physical and mental deficiencies but also for criminal records to include draft violations). Draft offenders in the last category numbered nearly 500,000 but less than 10,000 were convicted or imprisoned for draft violations. Finally, as many as 100,000 draft eligible males fled the country.

And here's a couple of interesting paragraphs from Angrist:

Selection of individuals for induction for the draft-eligible, non-deferred 'high priority pool' was based on a number of criteria, the most important of which were the pre-induction physical examination and the examination of mental aptitude. In 1970, for example, half of all registrants failed pre-induction examinations and 20 percent of those remaining were eliminated by physical inspections conducted at the time of induction.

[Also], it is sometimes argued that during the Vietnam era students went to college to avoid the draft and that educational standards were reduced so as to avoid having to flunk students out of school. Baskir and Strauss (1978) claim that Vietnam era college enrollment was 6-7 percent higher because of the draft.
On a vaguely related personal note, this blogger was drafted and served nine months in the military, although that was in Greece during peace-time. I wrote something about the experience here and here, though both posts are mainly about other topics. During that time, I wrote a book consisting of 148 μαντινάδες, exclusively during guard duty (I did innumerable 4-hour stints of guard duty- in the middle of the night, in freezing temperatures, alone, with a loaded machine gun). Any reader who would like to read it, just drop me a line and I'll email you the professionally put-together pdf. Reader beware: it's in Greek.