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Post-high school military enlistment and long-term well-being

APA Citation:

Lucier-Greer, M., O’Neal, C. W., Peterson, C., Reed-Fitzke, K., & Wickrama, K. A. S. (2023). Post-high school military enlistment and long-term well-being. Emerging Adulthood, 11(1), . https://doi.org/10.1177/21676968221131854

Abstract Created by REACH:

According to life course theory, individuals’ personal and career trajectories can be shaped by transitions in their roles, statuses, and connections to others. Drawing on this perspective, the current study compared the well-being of young adults who enlisted in the military after high school to those who did not. At baseline (T1), propensity score matching was used to ensure that the two groups were similar in composition (i.e., race, sex, general health parent education) at the starting point, when the sample was an average age of 14.7 years old. 13 years later (T2), the young adults reported on whether or not they had enlisted in the military (n = 576 Service members; n = 576 civilians), their financial well-being, physical health (i.e., blood pressure and body mass index [BMI]), mental health (i.e., stress, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD] diagnosis), and their risky lifestyle behaviors (e.g., arrests). Overall, Service members reported less perceived stress and anxiety than civilians, yet they also experienced higher rates of PTSD and worse physical health.


Mental health
Physical health

Branch of Service:

Air Force
Marine Corps
Multiple branches

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Active duty service member


Adolescence (13 - 17 yrs)
Childhood (birth - 12 yrs)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Adulthood (18 yrs & older)


Quantitative Study
Longitudinal Study


Lucier-Greer, Mallory, O’Neal, Catherine W., Peterson, Clairee, Reed-Fitzke, Kayla, Wickrama, K. A. S.


Longitudinal data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health were used to evaluate the impact of post-high school military enlistment during emerging adulthood. Comparisons were made between matched samples of emerging adults who enlisted in the military (n = 576) and their civilian counterparts (n = 576) on well-being over a decade later. Well-being was broadly conceptualized to reflect socioeconomic well-being, physical health, mental health, and risky lifestyle behaviors. Matching maximizes confidence that findings reflect differences due to enlistment, rather than pre-existing characteristics that contribute to both enlistment rates and well-being. No consistent differences emerged between the matched samples. Service members reported some indicators of better mental health (perceived stress, anxiety), yet higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, and civilians reported some indicators of better physical health. Strengths-based perspectives and models that account for the concurrent possibility that military service may positively and negatively impact well-being are needed in future research.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:


Publication Type:

REACH Publication

Author Affiliation:

Department of Human Development and Family Science, Auburn University, MLG
Department of Human Development and Family Science, University of Georgia, CWO
Department of Human Development and Family Science, University of Georgia, CP
Department of Human Development and Family Science, University of Georgia, KASW
Department of Psychological and Quantitative Foundations, University of Iowa, KRF


enlistment, emerging adulthood, PTSD, well-being

View Research Summary:

REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary


This work was supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (Hatch project 1017588 [Mallory Lucier-Greer, PI]).

REACH Newsletter:

  March 2023

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