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The Causal Effect of Military Conscription on Crime and the Labor Market

Authors Randi Hjalmarsson
Matthew J. Lindquist
ISSN 1403-2465
Publisher University of Gothenburg
Place of publication Göteborg
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Economics
Language en
Keywords Conscription, Crime, Criminal Behavior, Draft, Military Conscription, Military Draft, Incapacitation, Labor Market, Unemployment
Subject categories Economics


This paper uses detailed individual register data to identify the causal effect of mandatory peacetime military conscription in Sweden on the lives of young men born in the 1970s and 80s. Because draftees are positively selected into service based on their draft board test performance, our primary identification strategy uses the random assignment of potential conscripts to draft board officiators who have relatively high or low tendencies to place draftees into service in an instrumental variable framework. We find that military service significantly increases post-service crime (overall and across multiple crime categories) between ages 23 and 30. These results are driven primarily by young men with pre-service criminal histories and who come from low socioeconomic status households. Though we find evidence of an incapacitation effect concurrent with conscription, it is unfortunately not enough to break a cycle of crime that has already begun prior to service. Analyses of labor market outcomes tell similar post-service stories: individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds have significantly lower income, and are more likely to receive unemployment and welfare benefits, as a result of service, while service significantly increases income and does not impact welfare and unemployment for those at the other end of the distribution. Finally, we provide suggestive evidence that peer effects may play an important role in explaining the unintended negative impacts of military service.

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