WWU Sociologists Awarded $265,362 Grant to Study Relationship of Military Service and Troubled Behaviors

Western Today Staff

Western Washington University Sociology professor Jay Teachman, along with Lucky Tedrow, director of WWU’s Demographic Research Laboratory, have been awarded a $265,362 grant from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, National Institutes of Health, to study the relationship between military service and troubled behaviors.

During the three-year grant, Teachman and Tedrow will build on previous research and analyze data collected from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Their research will focus on numerous measures of troubled behaviors – such as antisocial, violent, criminal or dangerous behaviors­ that have increasingly been linked to public health concerns.

“This grant is a continuation of my long-time interest in the relationship of military service and the life course outcomes of men and women. Does time spent in the military somehow alter life course trajectories? If so, are these trajectories altered in a similar fashion for all veterans or are there variations according to background characteristics or characteristics of military service?” Teachman said.

The study will determine the effect of troubled behaviors in the military before and after 9/11. Numerous studies have noted that men characterized by socioeconomic disadvantage are more likely than other men to enlist in the military. One previous study showed that men from a disadvantaged background with a history of violent behavior have an increased propensity to enlist in the military. The Western researchers will broaden the concept of a troubled background to include the effects of numerous indicators of self-reported behavioral problems (arrests, sentencing, gang participation, violent behavior) and substance use (use of alcohol and illegal drugs) on military enlistment. 

The researchers also will examine the link between military service and subsequent troubled behavior. Other researchers have introduced the concept of “knifing off,” which suggests that military service allows service members the opportunity to leave behind a troubled past, leading to a reduction in the likelihood of later troubled behavior and an increased likelihood of positive life outcomes. 

“Knifing off” suggests a rehabilitative function whereby military service allows recruits to redirect their life course. This notion is consistent with the “bridging environment” hypothesis wherein military service provides a means for disadvantaged and minority recruits to be successful after leaving the military. While some research has shown evidence of a rehabilitative effect for veterans of World War II, other research has been less consistent.  For example, some research has found that veterans of later eras are more likely than non-veterans to use illegal drugs and engage in criminal activities while other research contradicts that, showing either no relationship or a decrease in criminal behavior among veterans. 

In addition, Teachman and Tedrow will see whether military service and subsequent troubled behavior varies according to pre-service characteristics and historical period. The Western researchers will pay particular attention to pre-service disadvantage by race and socioeconomic status.

And they will consider the effects of military service on troubled behavior for both men and women. Very little information exists on the consequences of military service for the growing number of female enlistees. 

“To our knowledge we will be the first investigators to examine the relationship between military service and troubled behaviors among women,” Teachman said.

In previous research, Teachman and Tedrow have found that military service holds consequences for men’s health, income, education, and patterns of marriage formation and dissolution. Moreover, these consequences vary according to race and socioeconomic position prior to entering the military. Variations in consequences can also be traced to historical period of service with, for example, more positive outcomes associated with veterans of World War WII and more negative consequences for veterans of Vietnam.