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Moving On Up? U.S. Military Service, Education and Labor Market Mobility among Children of Immigrants


This dissertation examines U.S. military service enlistment intentions and post-military education and labor market outcomes among young adult children of immigrants in the United States in the early 21st century. I assert that the military is perceived as an alternative pathway to incorporation among disadvantaged children of immigrants. Rather than relying on ethnic social ties and networks to get ahead as segmented assimilation asserts is necessary for success among disadvantaged children of immigrants, they actively avoid downward mobility by choosing military service as a pathway to mobility. I argue that disadvantaged children of immigrants who aspire to upward mobility are pushed toward military service by structural disadvantages but only those who perceive the military as best option to get ahead make the decision to enlist.

An empirical investigation of post-military educational and labor market outcomes reveal that military service does not uniformly benefit veteran children of immigrants as they may have hoped. Analyses of nationally representative data, the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Youth (ADD Health) and the Current Population Surveys (CPS) reveal that veteran children of immigrants are less likely to acquire bachelor's degrees and are less likely to be enrolled in post-secondary school than non-veterans by the ages of 24 to 32 but unemployment and earnings are similar between veteran and non-veteran children of immigrants.

However, these findings hide the variation underlying these outcomes that are revealed by in-depth interviews with thirty-three veteran children of immigrants. While some individuals seamlessly transition from military service to stable, middle-income occupations in the civilian labor market, others face unemployment, underemployment and obstacles to post-secondary degrees because of non-transferable military job skills and the challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life. Members of a third group were pursuing four-year degrees at the time of their interviews and post-college trajectories have yet to be determined.

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