What would happen if the government raised enlistment age from 18 to 21?

taken from this thread :

One post mentioned that an exception to this proposed law should be military members (and mentioned the drinking age should be lowered to 18 for them too)

This led me to wonder why is 18 a magic number anyhow? and why couldn’t they wait until people were 21 before singing them up? Is it harder for them to accept the indoctrination that’s needed when your 4 years older >

I would think they’d prefer the slightly more mature 21-year-old then the just out-of-school 18-year old…

Might be that interim period in a persons life is a more opportune target?
Out of high school. If not confirmed to be bound for higher education, a person may be more apt to consider the military as a first step into fending for ones self. I know that it isn’t really that. But it is a job. Possible career. Has benefits.
If such a person has had a couple years after high school to at least been employed and had a taste of self sufficient life, they may not be so tempted by a military life.

IMO if that age limit were raised the military would lose a lot of recruits. At 18 many teens don’t know what to do with their lives. At 18 many teens are at a junction or a fork in the road that is their life.

At 21 that applies to fewer people. A fair number of those teens, by 21, have determined an initial life trajectory. By 21 more would be married too, so that would mean fewer recruits.

I enlisted at 19 and that’s my opinion.

18-year-olds are much more malleable than a 21-year-old. As Judge Judy said, “They aren’t cooked yet!” Male brains aren’t really ready for the complexities of life until 25 or 30.

The whole idea of an ocean of 18-year-olds is that they can be guided (hammered, beaten, forced) into the military mold, to take direction and follow through immediately, until it becomes almost a reflex. No arguing or debate, just DO IT! This is what works on the battlefield. The younger brain is more open to this training.

I’m not demeaning a military enlistment. Serving your country is an honorable, often thankless, job. Not everyone can serve. And IMHO, the enlistee who can make a successful career out of the military is the person who survives the indoctrination and incorporates it into their maturing mindset.

I personally think a lot more recruits would wash out if the enlistment age were raised to 21.


Kids coming out of high school with no real established goals or direction can go right into the military. I have a friend who was unmotivated and uninspired coming out of high school and, to his great credit, realized his situation. He enlisted in the Navy for 5 years, learned skills, matured, and developed goals and a plan. He came out of the Navy with a definite direction and the educational benefits to achieve his goals. He is currently living a happy and successful life in Los Angeles.

If you raise the enlistment age to 21, what are 18 year old kids going to do if they are in a similar situation? They hang around at home, pick up odd jobs, and maybe get in trouble? I think raising the enlistment age would be a big mistake. In fact, I see no reason to raise it.

That is the kind of assertion that seems like it can and should be supported by evidence. It’s not like the military isn’t constantly studying attrition in entry-level training or during the first few years of the career, etc.

What I think would happen, whether or not attrition increases (and keeping in mind attrition is something that the military can control in part by tailoring its training processes to account for the population it has and not just the population it wishes it had), is that the military would have to do more and spend more to attract new recruits. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it also means the people it’s recruiting are better equipped to make an informed decision and weigh military service against other options more effectively by virtue of greater life experience and maturity.

Or like they don’t already as it is have a decent number of initial entry recruits in their 20s to observe.

(All that of course aside of how the whole “if old enough to fight for the country, old enough to [some other legal consideration]” argument does not always stand, or work both ways.)


The military must regularly evaluate all procedures and assess their effectiveness. Changes have been made over the years.

But the one thing that must never happen is the ability of a low-level grunt to question orders. It just won’t work if you’ve got the smartass who wants to talk about everything.

Yes, things have changed, they will always change. My husband enlisted in the Army in 1968, right out of high school. He’d probably have (another) heart attack if he were to observe how Basic Training is conducted today.


There’s a chart here that reflects 1999 data. It looks … like you might guess it would look, and for reasons already set out above:


What % of the (17)18-20 year olds would wait until they turned 21, and then still enlist ((if the enlistment age were raised) vs. the % that would have to find another way forward) ? Dunno.

The recruiters presumably have a harder time taking advantage of 16-18 year olds and their more impressionable minds than (hopefully) savvier and wiser 20-22 year olds.

Also, I’d imagine a lot more recruits would have college degrees by this age standard, which may require some reform of the “if you have a degree you can be an officer candidate” rule.

Your husband enlisted in the military at a time when basic training had to be tailored to account for draftees who often didn’t want to be there. I’m not sure his experiences should port well over to an all-volunteer military, whether the minimum age for enlistment is 18, 21, or other.

A large part of enlisting in the military is that it is the only way for many to pay for college. If they have to wait until 21 before they can even enlist, that puts them even further behind.

@Kedikat nailed it in one. At 18 you’ve just finished HS, you might have life plans but aren’t working yet, aren’t on your own yet; don’t have many possessions (furniture, kitchen stuff, etc.) yet. At 21, working for a couple of years, possibly living on one’s own it’ll be much harder to get people to give that up to go into the military.
That’s nothing to say that the military gives many an education in terms of learning a skill - work in the motor pool? Great when you get out you’re an experienced mechanic able to get a ‘real’ private sector job

One of Mr VOW’s jobs in the Army over his twenty years was a recruiter. The Middle East got hot (as usual) and people were waving flags and spouting patriotism. Uncle Sam was pulling together troops and calling up reserve units.

One young woman whined to a reporter: “I joined the Army to pay for college! I didn’t join to go to war!”

We had a giggle over that. What, the Army has different segments? These folks want to pay for college. Those over there are the warmongers who want to kill people. The guys in the back want to do cleanup.

A young man that Sgt VOW had been courting was pictured in the local paper rescuing a flag from someone trying to set it on fire. He made an impassioned speech about loving his country so much he planned on joining the Army. Sgt VOW called him the next day. “I read in the paper you are joining the Army. Get your butt down here and sign the paperwork.” The kid was at AFEES the next day.


See, when I hear/read about stories like that, my first thought is, “Wait, whose property was the flag? Was this a theft? Did you attack the person trying to burn it to affect the ‘rescue’ as you call it?” not “Wow! We need this young person for the military!”


I can easily see your point of view.


Sgt VOW was an Army recruiter, and had been talking with this kid for 6-8 months. He knew his classmates, where he lived, maybe had even met his parents. The kid was interested but had been dragging his feet about making the actual commitment by signing the initial document and having the appointment made at AFEES.

The AFEES appointment was engraved in stone. Sgt VOW picked up the kids at their homes, sometimes even helping them find shoes and socks. At 3:30 AM, a young adult isn’t quite functional.

The blurb in the paper closed the deal. The kid had essentially told the world he was joining the Army, and Sgt VOW was right there to usher him straight to Uncle Sam.


The ads for recruitment talk about seeing the world, getting college paid for, things like that. They don’t talk about having to go to a country half around the world to kill people.

As I said, it is the only way that many can pay for college, so that’s what people signed up for.

Now, I don’t really like that fact, but it is an unfortunate reality. And raising the age of enlistment to 21 would prevent this both from being used as an incentive for recruitment, as well as remove a path out of generational poverty.

And before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the advertising for the Army Reserves/Navy Reserves/AF Reserves was “serve one weekend (or was it two weekends?) a month and two weeks a year”, implying that was the extent of the commitment. And then, as I remember, many of those sent overseas in those wars were the reservists and not the regular forces.

The real travesty is that the US military as an outstanding federal work program. Take kids directly out of high school, put them to work in a very structured environment, teach them a skill. Give them an opportunity to move away from any bad influences at home. A lot of people in the military are trying escape small-town hell, or miserable parents or what-have-you.

The problem is that this is (I think) the only federal work program, unless you count the peace corps. I would love it if there was a way for young people to get jobs and serve their country without it being a part of the military. Heck, most military jobs aren’t violent anyway. I was a computer guy. Let people “enlist” in a government program for 4 years to get shipped off to some federal building in Wyoming and fix the computers there. Then, make that program transferable to the military at 21, with some rights and benefits retained.

I was thinking along the same lines. The CCC put thousands to work back during the Great Depression, and they’re works are still being used today. A 4-year enlistment with training and college funds would do everything the military does, without the whole “get shot at” stuff. Especially if the training offered the option of going heavy on the practical, blue-collar side like heavy equipment operation and general construction. I’d think the Corps of Engineers would be thrilled at the new pool of CoE bodies.

Now, where to get the funds for all of this? Hmmmmm… The DoD has more money than they deserve anyway. A 5% cut ought to do it.