World War II Mobilization in Men’s Worklives: Continuity or Disruption for the Middle Class?

Elder Jr., Glen, Aimée Dechter, and Hiromi Taniguchi
Working paper no. 1999-20


The extraordinary manpower needs of World War II fueled a rapidly growing demand for both military and war industry personnel, though little is known about this war mobilization process in men’s lives, such as the relation between manpower policies (on age, occupation, etc.) and recruitment pathways. Using theory relating State action and the life course, we investigate occupation-based activities in wartime mobilization, whether military or homefront, and their implications for postwar worklife continuity and progression. Estimates from hazard models drawing on panel data from two birth cohorts of middle-class California men (Stanford-Terman sample, birth dates 1903-1920) show significant differences in wartime activities across occupations, even with adjustments for other deferment criteria. By 1948, service in war industries (but not in the military) notably increased the entry of younger men into managerial roles, and the likelihood of occupational change among older and younger men. By extending the time frame, we find that critical employment on the homefront did not significantly impact career progress in the long run, but military experience did. Combat experience was detrimental, but officer status counteracted these negative effects.