The U.S. is in the midst of a significant long-term shift in both the size and profile of its veteran population.
The share of the population with military experience – counting those who are on active duty or were in the past – has fallen by more than half since 1980. Then, 18% of adults were serving or had served in the military. By 2014, the share had declined to 8%, according to Census Bureau data, with an additional 1% serving in the reserves. Among U.S. men, the decline was even more dramatic, dropping from 45% in 1960 to 37% in 1980 and 16% in 2014.
About 7 million (32%) of the 22 million living veterans in 2013 served during the Vietnam War era, according to data from the Veterans Administration (VA). An additional 30% served during the Gulf War era, but far smaller shares of living veterans served during the Korean War (9%) or World War II (5%).
In the years to come, the profile of veterans will continue to shift. VA projections suggest that by 2043, the total number of U.S. veterans will have dropped to about 14.5 million. By that time, most of those who served in the Vietnam era and earlier will have died. Gulf War-era veterans will likely comprise the majority of all vets, based upon the VA model, while those who served since the Gulf War are projected to account for a quarter of the veteran population.
Despite the declining presence of veterans in the U.S., many Americans still have close connections with people who have served in the military. A 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that 61% of Americans had an immediate family member who served. However, this closeness to military personnel is fading among younger people. For instance, while about eight-in-ten adults (79%) ages 50 to 64 reported having an immediate family member who served, just one-third of those ages 18 to 29 said the same