Saturday, August 27, 2005

Military Deaths Per Capita

There's some controversy going on over a map that supposedly shows that soldiers from "blue" states are being killed in Iraq more than soldiers from "red" states. One of the links in that post is to a chart showing military deaths per 100,000 population.

I visited the chart and was surprised to find that Utah was right there at the bottom. This surprised me because Utah, one of the reddest of the red states, has a very strong tradition of military service, so you'd think they'd place higher than last in military deaths per capita. But upon reflection I think it may have more to do with the demographics of Utah than anything else.

For one thing, Utah has an unusually high percentage of minor children. This would affect the statistic by increasing the denominator. Even if young people in the right age group to die in the military died at the exact same rate as in other states, the rate per 100,000 population would be smaller because of all their younger siblings and cousins. (This also makes me wonder about the oft-quoted statistic that Utah has a higher rate of child molestation than other states, and the inevitable blaming of that on patriarchal and/or sexually repressive religious practices. If you have more children in a state, you naturally have a higher rate of just about anything associated with children, and sadly that would include child molestation.)

For another thing, the military has a lot of competition for young men and women of enlistment age. Many of Utah's young men serve missions for the LDS church. Utah also has a very high rate of college education, so a lot of them are going to college instead, or going when they come back. Also, people who go to college usually enroll as officers, not enlisted men. As far as I know officers are less likely to be killed in combat. (Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.)

And finally, with tongue only halfway in cheek, I note that a large percentage of Utahns are Mormon, and many young men who enlist hold the priesthood. Thus they can call on the powers of heaven to protect them from harm, decreasing the rate of their deaths in combat.

Bottom line: there are so many factors that go into the creation of a statistic as simple as military deaths per capita that it is impossible to judge a state's degree of patriotism by it alone.