Identifying Opportunities to Recruit More Individuals Above the Age of 21 into the U.S. Army

by Michael S. Pollard, Louay Constant, Joe Cheravitch, Ryan Haberman, Katherine L. Kidder, Christina Panis


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Research Questions

  1. What are the accession, attrition, and performance trends of older cohorts of first-time Army enlistees?
  2. What are the current constraints to recruiting this group?
  3. What recruitment strategies could more effectively recruit them?

The Army is facing an increasingly difficult recruiting environment. Although the Army has traditionally focused most of its recruiting efforts on high school diploma holders ages 18 to 24, a 2014 RAND Corporation report suggested that, as a group, older recruits score higher on enlistment qualification tests than those who join before age 20, have attained higher levels of education or have greater life experience, and, once in service, are more likely than younger recruits to reenlist and to be promoted.

In this project, sponsored by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, a team from the RAND Arroyo Center examined the potential for recruiting individuals above the age of 21, identified barriers to recruitment, and proposed strategies for addressing those barriers. The authors analyzed the issues from both the supply and demand perspectives to derive an actionable set of recommendations for ways to improve recruitment among older individuals.

It is important to acknowledge that this research was conducted in fiscal year 2019 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic; while the authors provide comments throughout on issues and recommendations on which the pandemic may have a substantial impact, pandemic-specific experiences were not the focus of the analysis.

Key Findings

  • Older individuals represent a potential growth area for Army recruiting.
  • The quality of older recruits is generally high.
  • Age, in itself, does not appear to pose a significant barrier to accession.
  • Older recruits attrite at higher rates during basic training, at lower rates in their first term.
  • Accession of older recruits may require more time and resources.
  • Recruiters typically do not specifically target older recruits.
  • Virtual recruiting may be especially important for older recruits.
  • Recruiting of older individuals requires targeted messaging.


  • Expand the Army Loan Repayment Program.
  • Allow certain waivers to be managed at echelons below brigade.
  • Expand market research and share data more widely with station-level recruiters.
  • Expand social media and virtual recruiting teams at the battalion-and-below level.
  • Continue to broaden recruiting and marketing campaigns for wider appeal.
  • Enhance recruiter knowledge of Military Occupational Specialty options.
  • Expand virtual recruiting while strategizing long-term Army presence on campuses.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Military Recruitment Trends Among Older Individuals: Evidence from the Literature

  • Chapter Three

    Accession, Attrition, and Reenlistment Trends

  • Chapter Four

    Recruiting Opportunities and Challenges

  • Chapter Five

    Perceptions of the Army and Motivations to Join: Findings from the Youth Poll and New Recruit Survey

  • Chapter Six

    Experiences of Enlisted Personnel

  • Chapter Seven

    Conclusions and Policy Implications and Recommendations

  • Appendix A

    Description of the Administrative Data

  • Appendix B

    Methods and Detailed Results

  • Appendix C

    Recruiter Interview Protocol

  • Appendix D

    Additional Army New Recruit Survey Results

  • Appendix E

    Focus Group Discussion Guide

  • Appendix F

    Table of Military Occupational Specialties

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs and conducted by the Personnel, Training, and Health Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.

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