Absence of conflict of interest.
Bound, J., & Turner, S. (2002). Going to war and going to college: Did World War II and the G.I. Bill increase educational attainment for returning veterans? Journal of Labor Economics, 20(4), 784-815.
- The study’s objective was to examine the impact of the World War II (WWII) G.I. Bill on years of college completed and college completion.
- The authors used nonexperimental analyses to compare education outcomes for those eligible and not eligible for the WWII G.I. Bill benefits using data from the 1970 U.S. Census.
- The study found that being eligible for WWII G.I. Bill benefits was associated with completing more years of college and a greater likelihood of completing college.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the WWII G.I. Bill; other factors are likely to have contributed to the findings.
The WWII G.I. Bill
Features of the Intervention
The WWII G.I. Bill was passed in 1944. All veterans who served in the military from September 1940 through July 1947 were eligible for the benefits. Benefits covered at least one year of education for all eligible people and one additional month of coverage for each month of active duty, up to 48 months. The benefits covered three or four full years of postsecondary education for most participants. Participants received full payment for tuition, books, and supplies at any U.S. higher education institution along with a stipend to cover living expenses that varied by size of the veteran’s family.
Features of the Study
The authors used multiple nonexperimental analyses to estimate the effect of a person’s serving in WWII, meaning the person was eligible for the WWII G.I. Bill benefits, on postsecondary educational attainment. In all analyses, the authors analyzed a sample of White men using a national sample from the 1970 U.S. Census. In the first analytic approach, the authors compared education outcomes (specifically, years of college completed and completing a college degree) for veterans of WWII, who were eligible for GI Bill benefits, with those of nonveterans, who were not eligible for the benefits, born from 1923 to 1928. The second analytic approach compared differences in outcomes with differences in the fraction of the population serving in the military across birth year cohorts, because the changing manpower demands of WWII led to changes in the proportion of the population serving in the military as each cohort turned 18. In this approach, the authors’ preferred analytic models included veterans born from 1923 to 1932 and those born from 1923 to 1938. Across all analyses, the authors did not provide the exact sample sizes.
Education and skill gains
- Across both model specifications, eligibility for WWII G.I. Bill benefits was associated with completing more years of college and a higher likelihood of completing college. In the first analytic approach, veterans eligible for the benefits completed 0.52 more years of college and were 10 percentage points more likely to complete college than nonveterans, who were not eligible for the benefits. In the second analytic approach, eligibility for benefits was associated with 0.23 to 0.28 more years of college enrollment and 5 to 6 percentage points higher likelihood of completing college (ranging from 0.30 to 0.52 years, depending on the model specification); with this analytic approach, eligibility was also associated with a higher likelihood of completing college (between 4 and 10 percentage points, depending on the model specification).
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The authors accounted for race and gender in their analyses by restricting their sample to White men, but they did not account for age or pre-intervention measures of education and socioeconomic status. Relevant for the first analytic strategy (comparing veterans with nonveterans), most men during the WWII period were enlisted to serve in the military, but those that were not enlisted typically received a deferment for physical or mental disabilities. As a result, veterans and nonveterans during this period might not be comparable, and the authors did not account for these potential differences between the groups.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the WWII G.I. Bill; other factors are likely to have contributed to the findings.