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The Cycle of (Legal) Violence? Child Abuse and Military Aspirations


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  • Christopher Khawand

    (Department of Economics, Florida International University)

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    Most prior research on military enlistment has focused on characteristics that can be used to identify potential recruits, but has rarely looked at the psychological histories of those recruits. Data on Wisconsin seniors in 1957 from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study was used to build a large profile of socio-economic controls for testing the “cycle of violence” hypothesis – that physical abuse in childhood leads to violent adult impulses – as manifested through aspirations for a military career. Results were generated using a probit model with reported military aspirations as the dependent variable. For (mostly Caucasian) male Wisconsin respondents in 1957, retrospective self-reports of physical abuse by the respondents’ fathers was associated with an (average) increase in probability of an aspiration to a military career of approximately 8%, which may be underestimated due to underreporting of abuse. The relationship of military aspiration to verbal abuse and physical abuse by the respondent’s mother was unclear, likely due to collinearity or alternative, negative abuse outcomes that make military life unappealing. There are two significant implications to these results: first, that military employment serves as a psychologically similar but alternative outcome to domestic abuse or violent crime, except without the associated stigma; and second, that military life presents challenges that reward psychological adaptations and defenses deriving from childhood victimization, thereby increasing its appeal to child abuse victims.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Florida International University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 0912.

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    Length: 16 pages
    Date of creation: Sep 2009
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:fiu:wpaper:0912

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