Military Enlistment Rates by State and Region
The South and Southwest have a much higher military enlistment rate than the Northeast.
It likely won’t shock you that the South and Southwest have a much higher military enlistment rate than the Northeast:
Or that Georgia and Florida have among the highest rates of enlistment in the country—although maybe it would surprise you that Maine is right there with them:
Jeremy Bender, Andy Kiersz, and Armin Rosen, who compiled the maps for Business Insider using Defense Department data, offer some plausible explanations:
In 2013, 44% of all military recruits came from the South region of the U.S. despite it having only 36% of the country’s 18-24 year-old civilian population.
On the above map, some of the lowest rates of state-by-state enlistment are in New England and the Northeast, Maine notwithstanding. The Northeast of the U.S. was the most underrepresented region of the country for recruitment in 2013: Despite having 18% of the 18-24 year-old civilian population only 14% of new enlistments came from this area.
The Department of Defense does not have a good explanation for why some state’s are more proportionally represented than others. However DoD spokesman LCDR Nate Christensen hazarded a guess.
“One reason might be exposure to large military bases in states where there are higher enlistment rates,” Christensen told Business Insider.
Christensen’s explanation may explain why Florida or Georgia have such high enlistment numbers, as both states are home to a large number of Naval, Marine, Army, and Air Force bases. However, this explanation does not address why Maine has such a proportionally high number of enlistees.
Others reasons, which we hope to get to in future posts on military demographics, may be that cultural or economic differences make some groups more likely to join. There may also be differences in the approach to recruiting in different areas.
“A soldier’s demographic characteristics are of little importance in the military, which values honor, leadership, self-sacrifice, courage, and integrity-qualities that cannot be quantified,” Sheana Watkins and James Sherk cautioned in a 2008 Heritage Foundation study of the backgrounds of U.S. servicemembers. ”Demographic characteristics are a poor proxy for the quality of those who serve in the armed forces,” they continue, “but they can help to explain which Americans volunteer for military service and why.”
Aside from those explanations, the level of economic opportunity in an area obviously influences the propensity to enlist but there’s no really obvious pattern. Yes, Georgia, Florida, and Maine all have fairly high youth unemployment rates—all three hovered around 16% in 2012—but several states with substantially higher unemployment rates had substantially lower enlistment rates. For example, California had a staggering 34.6% rate in the 16-19 age category and 20.2% in the 16-24 category.