Cover: Recruiting Older Youths

Recruiting Older Youths

Insights from a New Survey of Army Recruits

Published Apr 23, 2014

by Bernard D. Rostker, Jacob Alex Klerman, Megan Zander Cotugno


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Research Questions

  1. Why did older recruits choose not to join right after graduating from high school?
  2. Why did they change their minds several years later and enlist?

Since the advent of the all-volunteer force, little attention has been paid to high school graduates who do not enlist immediately after graduation, primarily those who seek employment in the private sector of the economy. However, over time, this group has made up a significant and increasing portion of total enlistments. However, since 2005, the majority of the Army's recruits has not joined directly out of high school but has instead made the decision to join at a later time. Why these recruits initially chose not to join when they had the opportunity after graduating from high school and why they changed their minds several years later and enlisted are the subjects of this report. Given the importance of older recruits to the Army, the authors examine what is known about these recruits, their performance during military service, and why they came to join the Army after first choosing another postsecondary path. The results of a survey of 5,000 Army recruits designed to answer this question are presented. Finally, the implications of the survey results are discussed, along with suggestions of ways to gain additional insights by tracking this survey cohort through their Army careers.

Key Findings

Most of Those Who Did Not Enlist Immediately After High School Sought Jobs or Further Education Instead

  • Among those surveyed, 73 percent of the older recruits said they remembered recruiters visiting their high schools. Among the reasons given for why they did not enlist directly after high school graduation, many said they went to college or vocational school or got jobs.

Some Who Did Not Enlist Immediately Faced Opposition from Family or Friends

  • Of the 38 percent who said they just took time off, one-quarter indicated that someone did not want them to enlist.

Others Were Concerned About Current Commitments Overseas

  • Nearly one-quarter also indicated that they were concerned about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those Who Enlisted Later Were Concerned About the Job Market

  • When asked why they decided to join the Army, about a third of those who joined later said there were "no jobs at home," and about half were of the view that the jobs that were available were "dead-end jobs."

They Were Also Less Concerned About External Factors

  • When they did enlist, they indicated that the views of others had become less important to their decision and they were less concerned about the war, despite the fact that nearly all indicated that they expected to be deployed.


  • To date, there has been very little research done on the potential recruits who do not join the Army immediately after high school. Given the size of the pool and the fact that it is already a significant source of manpower for the Army, it may be prudent to invest additional resources in developing techniques to better penetrate this market.
  • The RAND survey produced a rich data set that contains unique information about the decision to join the Army and the life experiences of older recruits between the time they left high school and when they enlisted that can be the starting point for a number of potentially valuable analyses. The Office of the Secretary of Defense or the Army may want to examine how well this group of recruits performed during their service and how that might relate to the unique information collected. A follow-up study to see how many completed their first terms of service, how many reenlisted, and at what rates they were promoted could provide additional insights on this group of recruits.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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