The Relationship between Military Service and Fighting: Selection VS. Causation


Holbrook, April (2014). The Relationship between Military Service and Fighting: Selection VS. Causation.


Research on the relationship between military service and violent behavior is surprisingly lacking, and virtually no studies use nationally representative data. The main limitation of past research, which tends to find evidence of higher levels of violence among members of the military, is the inability to distinguish between selection and causal explanations. That is, does military service really lead to higher levels of violence, or is the relationship spurious, an artifact of pre-service characteristics related to both military service and violence? In the present study, I use data from Waves I and III of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) to examine differences in fighting behavior among male military service members and civilians. First, I look at whether a relationship exists between military service and fighting. Second, I examine early-life characteristics such as adolescent violent delinquency, having problems in school, family socioeconomic status, and family structure that might influence both entry into military service and increased levels of fighting in adulthood versus causal factors (e.g., stress and routine activities) directly related to experiences in the military. I find that fighting is much more prevalent among current military service members than civilians (30% versus 18% respectively). The results of a logistic regression analysis suggest that neither selection nor causation explanations alone suffice, but rather that both play a role. The results also show those who play recreational sports and those who own guns are significantly more likely to participate in fighting.


Reference Type


Book Title



Holbrook, April

Year Published


Volume Number



Bowling Green State University

Reference ID