Societal Impacts of Modern Conscription Human Capital, Social Capital and Criminal Behaviour

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Economics, Stockholm University

Abstract: Opportunity Costs and Conscription: An Unintended Progressive Tax?Throughout history to present days, policymakers, social commentators and others have oftentimes viewed conscription as a natural extension of secondary education, and an important institution for vocational training. This paper uses Swedish administrative data and exploits a reform in 2004, implying a sudden downsizing of the military, to identify the causal effects of peacetime conscription on later labour market outcomes and education. I find that unemployment increased in the short run, and lasted up to four years after service. There are no significant overall effects on income or educational attainment. However, these average effects hide a large heterogeneity. High ability conscripts fall behind their counterparts who did not start military service, both in terms of income and employment. Furthermore, the results suggest that the effect is attributed to high ability conscripts assigned as privates. In contrast, no such evidence is found for conscripts assigned to officer training, despite the fact that all of them have a high ability, and a longer time in service. Plausibly, high ability conscripts have high opportunity costs of doing military service, and the civilian benefits from training as privates are too small to counteract these costs. The results highlight the importance of precise matching of aptitude to type of training or education, an insight that might be generalized to other contexts beyond conscription.Citizenship, Social Capital and the Role of Conscription: Evidence from SwedenMany scholars have argued that conscription has played an important role as a nation-builder throughout history. Today, advocates of conscription often put forward its potential to induce citizenship and civic engagement. This paper addresses this claim by studying the causal effects of military service on civic engagement by using Swedish administrative data on election participation, blood donation, and the payment of a mandatory, but highly evaded, fee to the public broadcasting service. I study two qualitatively very different conscription systems from two different eras in Sweden, yielding a high external validity. To study the effects of universal conscription (almost all healthy and fit men serve) during the early 1990s, I use an empirical strategy similar in spirit to work using randomly assigned judges as an instrument. To identify the effects of selective conscription (a small fraction of motivated and positively selected men serve), I exploit a reform in 2004, implying a sudden downsizing of the military. In contrast to the previous correlational literature, the results show small and insignificant point estimates for all outcomes in both populations studied. Hence, I find no evidence of any causal effects of military service on civic engagement in either a selective-, or in a universal conscription systemThe Effect of Military Conscription on the Formation of Criminal Behaviour: Evidence from a Natural ExperimentConscription has been suggested to be a policy-tool to break young men's anti-social life-trajectories. This paper uses Swedish administrative data and exploits a reform in 2004, implying a sudden downsizing of the military, to identify the causal effects of peacetime conscription on contemporaneous, short- and medium-term crime. I find no evidence of any effects on criminal activity while in service. However, the post-service results show crime increasing effects of military service at the intensive margin (number of convictions), but not at the extensive margin (probability of conviction). The overall crime increasing effect seems to be primarily driven by thefts. This study finds no support for increased overall violent behaviour or that the military context per se induces anti-social behaviour. Rather, some suggestive evidence for worsened labour market opportunities for some groups is documented as a plausible mechanism behind the crime increasing results.

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