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Western Washington UniversityCommunications and Marketing
DATE: January 10, 2013 1:44:05 PM PST
WWU Sociologist Records Concentration of U.S. Veterans in Rural Areas of South, Midwest

Contact: Jay Teachman, professor of Sociology, (360) 650-7214 or jay.teachman@wwu.edu

BELLINGHAM – Western Washington University Sociology professor Jay Teachman recently completed a study showing that a rapid decline in the U.S. veteran population has been accompanied by increasing geographic concentration of veterans in smaller, more rural counties, often near military bases, in the South and Midwest.

In his paper published in the journal “Armed Forces & Society,” Teachman refers to a speech given on Sept. 9, 210 by then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in which Gates noted a growing divide between the military and the civilian population that it serves.  The divide Secretary Gates spoke about was a consequence of misunderstanding and suspicion that is the result of minimal social interaction that flows from the growing geographic and social isolation of the military.  According to Secretary Gates, “with each passing decade, fewer and fewer Americans know someone with military experience in their family or social circle.”

In his study Teachman found that former Secretary Gates was correct in his assessment.

The number of veterans in the United States has been steadily declining, from 28 million veterans in 1980 to 22 million in 2010, due to mortality of the very large cohort of World War II veterans and the decreasing size of the active duty military force, which has dropped from over 2 million men and women serving in 1980 to about 1.4 million in 2012. Meanwhile, the U.S. population increased from 226 million in 1980 to 308 million in 2010.

Teachman found that veterans are more likely to be found in the South and Midwest, particularly in rural and nonmetropolitan areas. These also are regions of the country from which most military recruits are drawn. By studying county population numbers, Teachman found that the number of counties in the country with more than 15 percent veterans fell from 145 counties across the nation in 1980 to 49 in 2010.

“The rapid decline in the number of counties with a high percentage of veterans is clearly evident,” Teachman wrote. “By 2010, large swaths of the U.S. held few veterans (less than 8 percent). The drop in the percentage of veterans is particularly dramatic for the Northeast and the western third of the country.”

Teachman’s research also found that veterans have demonstrated a preference to settle in areas where major military bases are located.

“The extent to which the veteran population becomes a smaller proportion of the population and increasingly concentrated means there will be less contact between the veteran and nonveteran populations,” Teachman wrote.

Teachman said that the scope of his study precluded further assessment although he did add that, “the increasing geographic concentration of veterans may hold consequences for civil-military relations.”

Teachman, along with Lucky Tedrow, director of WWU’s Demographic Research Laboratory, recently were 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. 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.

Jay Teachman. Photo by Dylan Koutsky | Communications and Marketing intern

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