Academic journal article Demographic Research

The Differential Impact of Mortality of American Troops in the Iraq War: The Non-Metropolitan Dimension

Academic journal article Demographic Research

The Differential Impact of Mortality of American Troops in the Iraq War: The Non-Metropolitan Dimension

Article excerpt


This study investigates the disproportionate impact of mortality among United States troops in Iraq on rural communities. We advance scholarly research and popular accounts that suggest a non-metropolitan disadvantage by disaggregating the risk of mortality according to the metropolitan status of their home county and by examining potential sources of variation, including enlistment, rank and race or ethnicity. Results show that troops from non-metropolitan areas have higher mortality after accounting for the disproportionate enlistment of non-metropolitan youth, and the non-metropolitan disadvantage generally persists across military branch and rank. Moreover, most of the differential is due to higher risks of mortality for non-metropolitan African American and Hispanic military personnel, compared to metropolitan enlistees of the same race or ethnicity.

1. Introduction

Considerable attention has been given to mortality among United States troops in the Iraq War (2003 to present), especially the differential impact made by death among troops. A recent study estimated the risk of death for US troops in Iraq, according to several individual characteristics including military branch, rank, sex, age, and race or ethnicity (Buzzell and Preston 2007) and found that the greatest risk of death was experienced by the Marines, the enlisted, males, the young, and Hispanics. Some of the differences in risk of death correspond with trends in the larger society (e.g., sex) while others are specific to the military (e.g., branch and rank). Other researchers and journalists have focused on the potential differential impacts of deaths in the Iraq conflict for specific sub-populations of American society, including rural populations and lower-income groups (e.g., Mark 2007; O'Hare and Bishop 2006; see also Zeitlin, Lutterman, and Russell 1973 for an explicit focus on class and poverty). In their 2006 report on rural soldiers, O'Hare and Bishop (2006) connect these two sub-populations by linking military involvement to the poor economic opportunities that characterize many rural areas. The current study is concerned with the potential disproportionate impact of mortality in Iraq for the rural population, and extends previous research by empirically estimating the extent of the differential impact, and taking initial steps to investigate the sources of variation.

The disproportionate impacts of deaths in Iraq are important to consider for at least two reasons. First, rural communities in the United States have a long and active history of military involvement, yet they have fewer resources to deal with the consequences of war. Research has shown that rural communities lack the necessary support services for families suffering loss (Helseth 2007a). Indeed, service providers in rural areas are not able to directly serve their communities because, in part, they have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan (Helseth 2007b). Second, disproportionate military deaths may also perpetuate the conditions in rural communities that encourage rural youth to serve in the military and put themselves at risk of death. Military deaths among the rural population diminish the available labor force-which makes an impact on a community's ability to attract industry and reduces household earning potential, which puts families at greater risk of living in poverty. Limited labor force opportunity and economic instability are oft-cited reasons for military enlistment (Bachman et al. 2000; Dale and Gilroy 1984; O'Hare and Bishop 2006; Teachman, Call and Segal 1993; for a contrasting view, see Kane 2005, 2006).

In the current analysis, we address the question of whether rural communities are more greatly affected by mortality in the Iraq War compared to urban communities, by disaggregating mortality data by the non-metropolitan status of the reported home counties of the deceased, and estimating whether troops from rural communities have a greater risk of death than troops from urban communities. …

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