Conscription hurts: The effects of military service on physical health, drinking, and smoking

Dirk Bethmann, Jae Il Cho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Almost all South Korean men serve in the country's armed forces for two years. In this paper, we investigate whether the military service affects the health of draftees. Using an event study design, we use the conscription years to identify the effect the military service has on soldiers' physical health as well as on their smoking and drinking behavior. Our results show that the compulsory military service has a strong and long-lasting negative effect on physical health. Moreover, people who are drafted into the armed forces are more likely to consume more alcohol and cigarettes even years after they are discharged. Our results are of great interest to decision-makers weighing the pros and cons of conscription armies: mandatory military service adversely affects the male labor force and exacerbates drinking and smoking behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101391
JournalSSM - Population Health
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Jun

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank the editor and two unknown reviewers for their very helpful suggestions. This research benefitted from Korea University (KU) research funding (grant number K2303031 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors


  • Compulsory military service
  • Difference-in-differences (event-study)
  • Physical health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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