Patriotism or paychecks: who believes what about why soldiers serve

Ronald R. Krebs, Robert Ralston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although voluntary recruitment to the military is today the Western norm, we know little about citizens’ beliefs regarding service members’ reasons for joining. This article, reporting and analyzing the results of a nationally representative U.S. survey, rectifies this gap. We find that, despite the reality of market-based recruitment, many Americans continue to subscribe to an idealized image of service members as moved by self-sacrificing patriotism. This belief is most heavily concentrated among conservative Americans. Liberal Americans are more likely to believe that service members join primarily for economic reasons. Those furthest to the left are more inclined to aver that service members join chiefly to escape desperate circumstances. Perhaps most surprising, we discover a disconnect between respondents with military experience and their families: The former are more likely to acknowledge that pay and benefits are a primary motivation for service, whereas their families are more likely to embrace a patriotic service narrative.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-48
Number of pages24
JournalArmed Forces & Society
Issue number1
Early online date15 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • civil–military relations
  • militarism
  • recruitment/retention
  • veterans


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