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The association of state per capita income and military service deaths in the Vietnam and Iraq wars

Population Health MetricsAdvancing innovation in health measurement20097:1

DOI: 10.1186/1478-7954-7-1

Received: 26 August 2008

Accepted: 06 January 2009

Published: 06 January 2009

Abstract

Background

In the United States, social burdens including war casualties are often distributed unequally across groups of individuals, communities, and states. The purpose of this report was to examine the association between war deaths and per capita income in the 50 states and District of Columbia during the Vietnam and Iraq wars.

Methods

The numbers of deaths by the home state of record for each conflict were obtained from Department of Defense records on the Internet as were key variables including age at death, gender, race, branch of service, rank, circumstances of death, home state of record and the ratio of wounded to dead. In addition, we obtained state per capita income and state population for the relevant times.

Results

Characteristics of decedents in the 2 conflicts were very similar with young, white enlisted men accounting for the majority of deaths. However, in the Iraq war, women accounted for a 2.4% of casualties. Also of note was the higher ratio of wounded to dead in Iraq. At the level of the state, the correlation between the ratio of deaths per 100,000 and per capita income was -0.51 (p < 0.0001) for Vietnam and -0.52 for Iraq (p < 0.0001). In both eras, states with lower per capita income tended to have higher ratios of deaths per population.

Conclusion

For military service members serving in the Vietnam and Iraq conflicts, there were many more women who died in the latter war. Whether war deaths resulted in lower per capita income cannot be determined from these cross sectional data; we simply note a strong association between per capita income and war casualty rates for both wars.

Background

In the United States, social burdens including war casualties are often distributed unequally across groups of individuals, communities, and states. In both Vietnam and Iraq the majority of deaths occurred in white enlisted men who served in the US Army or Marine Corps in hostile situations [14]. Less is known about the association between war casualties and income of states. The purpose of this report was to examine the association between war deaths and per capita income in the 50 states and District of Columbia during the Vietnam and Iraq wars. A secondary objective was to compare the characteristics of individuals who died in the 2 conflicts.

Methods

The numbers of deaths by the home state of record for each conflict were obtained from the World Wide Web [2, 4] as were key variables including age at death, gender, race, branch of service, rank (enlisted versus officer or warrant officer), circumstances of death (hostile versus non-hostile), and the home state of record. Hostile deaths refer to those personnel who were killed in action, died of wounds, were missing in action, or died in captivity. Tabular counts of decedents (e.g., number of deaths by age) for the Vietnam war were obtained from the National Archives of the United States, which in turn received archival records from the Department of Defense [2]. Detailed individual level characteristics of decedents in the Iraq war were obtained from publicly available files provided by the Defense Manpower Data Center [4]. Death information for the Iraq war is changing as the war is ongoing. The ratio of wounded to dead was calculated for the conflicts in Vietnam and Iraq [5, 6]. Race was defined differently in the 2 periods; in order to compare racial characteristics during the 2 time periods, race was categorized as white or non-white.

The ratio of state deaths to state population was calculated as the number of deaths per state of record to state population in either 1970 or 2000. State population figures for the years 1970 and 2000 were obtained from the Pennsylvania State Data Center [7]. Per capita income in 1999 dollars for the years 1969 and 1999 (the latest year for which information was available) was obtained from the US Census [8]. The association between per capita income and the ratio of the number of deaths to state population was examined with the Spearman rank correlation coefficient for the Vietnam and Iraq wars separately.

Results

The numbers of deaths in Vietnam exceeded those in Iraq by more than 10 times as deaths in Vietnam spanned the years 1956 through 1998, whereas those for the ongoing Iraq war covered the years 2003 to July 2008. Vietnam deaths after 1975 were for individuals whose status changed from missing to deceased. The characteristics of casualties in Vietnam and Iraq were similar, with the exception that the number of women increased significantly in Iraq (table 1). In Vietnam, there were only 8 recorded deaths in women, whereas in the Iraq there were 92 women who died. Another difference was that the ratio of wounded to dead was much higher in Iraq.
Table 1

Characteristics of casualties in the Vietnam and Iraq wars

Characteristic

Vietnam

(n = 58,193)

Iraq

(n = 4106)

Age in years (median)

21

24

Men

100%

98%

White

86%

75%

United States Army

66%

72%

United States Marine Corps

25%

24%

Enlisted personnel

86%

91%

Hostile death

81%

81%

Ratio of wounded to dead

2.6/1

7.5/1

As seen in the table 2, the average per capita income in 1969 in 1999 dollars was $11.5 thousand compared to $20.9 thousand in 1999. The ratio of deaths per 100,000 was 29.8 for Vietnam and 1.6 for Iraq. The correlation between the ratio of deaths per 100,000 and per capita income was -0.51 (p < 0.0001) for Vietnam and -0.52 for Iraq (p < 0.0001). In both eras, states with lower per capita income tended to have higher ratios of deaths per population (figures 1 and 2).
Table 2

Ratio of deaths to population and per capita income by state during the Vietnam and Iraq wars

State

# deaths/100,000

(Vietnam)

# deaths/100,000

(Iraq)

Per capita income

(1969)

Per capita income

(1999)

Alabama

35.05

1.51

9,026

18,189

Alaska

18.81

2.71

14,511

22,660

Arizona

35.10

1.87

11,442

20,275

Arkansas

30.58

2.21

8,345

16,904

California

27.91

1.31

14,079

22,711

Colorado

28.05

1.40

12,100

24,049

Connecticut

20.15

0.82

15,135

28,766

Delaware

31.97

0.87

12,719

23,305

District of Columbia

22.26

1.79

14,967

28,659

Florida

28.74

1.09

11,913

21,557

Georgia

34.48

1.55

10,285

21,154

Hawaii

35.84

1.73

13,140

21,525

Idaho

30.43

2.32

10,300

17,841

Illinois

26.41

1.17

13,615

23,104

Indiana

29.49

1.48

11,960

20,397

Iowa

30.19

1.64

11,235

19,674

Kansas

27.88

1.60

11,410

20,506

Kentucky

32.75

1.51

9,447

18,093

Louisiana

24.20

1.79

9,077

16,912

Maine

34.51

1.96

9,926

19,533

Maryland

25.84

1.27

13,682

25,614

Massachusetts

23.26

1.06

13,276

25,952

Michigan

29.88

1.49

13,078

22,168

Minnesota

28.17

1.22

11,835

23,198

Mississippi

28.73

1.79

7,499

15,853

Missouri

30.21

1.43

11,500

19,936

Montana

38.62

2.66

10,503

17,151

Nebraska

26.60

2.51

10,896

19,613

Nevada

30.88

1.75

13,845

21,989

New Hampshire

30.76

1.78

11,629

23,844

New Jersey

20.69

0.83

14,313

27,006

New Mexico

39.23

1.98

9,494

17,261

New York

22.59

0.94

14,056

23,389

North Carolina

31.65

1.22

9,638

20,307

North Dakota

32.04

2.18

9,618

17,769

Ohio

29.05

1.51

12,462

21,003

Oklahoma

38.61

1.88

10,495

17,646

Oregon

33.89

2.02

12,264

20,940

Pennsylvania

26.64

1.52

11,944

20,880

Rhode Island

21.79

0.95

12,158

21,688

South Carolina

34.58

1.20

8,972

18,795

South Dakota

28.98

2.38

9,299

17,562

Tennessee

32.88

1.46

9,599

19,393

Texas

30.49

1.87

10,877

19,617

Utah

34.56

0.99

10,507

18,185

Vermont

22.47

3.45

10,799

20,625

Virginia

28.04

1.68

11,671

23,975

Washington

30.76

1.41

13,078

22,973

West Virginia

41.97

1.22

9,089

16,477

Wisconsin

26.28

1.66

11,812

21,271

Wyoming

36.14

2.43

11,278

19,134

https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1186%2F1478-7954-7-1/MediaObjects/12963_2008_Article_70_Fig1_HTML.jpg
Figure 1

Combat casualties and state per capita income during the Vietnam war.

https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1186%2F1478-7954-7-1/MediaObjects/12963_2008_Article_70_Fig2_HTML.jpg
Figure 2

Combat casualties and state per capita income during the Iraq war.

Discussion

Much has been said about similarities and differences between the conflicts in Vietnam and Iraq. The former was fought by draftees and volunteers, whereas the current conflict includes only volunteers, as at this time there is no military draft in the United States. One striking difference was the numbers of deaths in Vietnam far exceeded those in the ongoing Iraq war. On the other hand, characteristics of decedents in the 2 conflicts were very similar with young, white enlisted men accounting for the majority of deaths. However, in the Iraq war, women accounted for a higher proportion of casualties. Also of note was the difference in the ratio of wounded to dead in the 2 conflicts. This may be an indication of improved medical care in the Iraq war, as personnel with severe injuries are surviving wounds that in previous wars were lethal [9].

It was also the case that states with fewer resources as measured by per capita income experienced higher casualty rates in both conflicts. The magnitude of the association was relatively strong and remarkably similar in both eras. For states and the armed forces, this meant the loss of young men and women; the loss of young women is particularly applicable to the Iraq conflict, where women currently account for 2.4% of deaths [2, 4].

A major limitation of the study was that the state population was used as the denominator. A better denominator would have been the number of combatants from each state, as it is likely that individuals from poorer states were more likely to join the military than were those from wealthier states. Unfortunately, it was not possible to obtain counts of the number of combatants by state.

While there could have been selection bias in that men and women from poorer states were more likely to join the military, this does not change the fact that poorer states had higher casualty rates. This study was based on publicly available data over which the author had little control; information was used as provided. For example, 1999 was latest year for which state per capita income was reported; this was 4 years prior to the start of the Iraq War. Furthermore, the information regarding deceased combatant's characteristics was taken "as is." The author was not able to assess the accuracy of the information; this applies particularly to the Vietnam war which started over 45 years ago.

Conclusion

In the Vietnam and Iraq conflicts, the burden of war casualties was shouldered primarily by young enlisted men, but as seen in Iraq, young women are beginning to share this burden. Less appreciated is the fact that populations may be affected by war casualties in military personnel. Whether war deaths cause states to have lower income cannot be determined from these cross sectional data; we simply note a strong association between per capita income and war casualty rates in the 2 conflicts.

Declarations

Acknowledgements

This study was not supported by any funding agency.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
Department of Health Services, University of Washington

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Copyright

© Maynard; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2009

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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