Exempting men from military service takes away an incentive for them to continue their studies. This is the main finding of research by Huzeyfe Torun and Semih Tumen, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society''s annual conference in Brighton in March 2016. Their study of Turkey also finds longer-term effects in lower lifetime earnings.

In 1999, Turkey passed a law to allow men to pay a fixed fee in order to avoid military service. This study compared people on either side of the age limit (being born on or before 31 December 1972) to see how their careers developed.

The authors find that this ''paid exemption'' reform meant that people spent on average around two fewer months in education, as they were less likely to receive a college degree. This suggests that people had previously continued their education in order to stave off military service, so without this incentive they ended their studies earlier. This means that they also earn less over the lifetime.

The authors comment that ''Taken at face value, our findings suggest that removing compulsory military service in Turkey will likely reduce educational attainment for those who stay enrolled to defer their military obligation.''


Compulsory military service imposes certain restrictions on the education and employment decisions of young men. This is especially a concern for countries in which the duration of compulsory service is typically long. Research on compulsory military service is useful for policy, because there is a debate about the costs and benefits of replacing the compulsory military service with more flexible alternative systems.

This research studies the overall effectiveness of a reform that allows for paid exemption from compulsory military service on the schooling and labour market outcomes of the eligible males in Turkey.

The paid exemption option is provided to men – with a law enacted in November 1999 – who were born on or before 31 December 1972. This reform randomly sets an age cut-off; males above this cut-off are allowed to pay a certain amount in exchange for being exempted from the military service requirement.

The researchers use this natural experiment to evaluate how the education and labour market decisions of young men are affected on relaxing the compulsory military service requirement. This provides an idea of the potential effects of removing the compulsory military service in a developing country context.

Using a large micro-level data set on education and labour market outcomes in Turkey, the researchers find that the paid exemption reform reduced the total years of completed schooling by 0.15-0.20 years, on average. They interpret this result as an evidence of decreased incentives to continue education for males in the treatment group relative to those in the control group.

They present further evidence that the reduction in the years of completed schooling comes from the decline in the probability of receiving a college degree or above. This implies that continuing education is partly seen as a means to defer military service; thus, in the absence of compulsory military service, some of the males would not stay enrolled in college or in graduate-level education.

The researchers also present suggestive evidence that labour income also tends to decline within the eligible group. The reduction in earnings is likely due to the reduction in education.

Taken at face value, these findings suggest that removing the compulsory military service in Turkey will likely reduce educational attainment for those who stay enrolled to defer their military obligation. This is in line with Maurin and Xenogiani (2007), who show that the abolition of compulsory military service in France led to a reduction in educational attainment among males and, consequently, in earnings.

In a similar spirit, the new findings suggest that some of the males who were born on or after the reform cut-off would have left school if they were also eligible for a paid exemption.

The Effects of Compulsory Military Service Exemption on Education and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from a Natural Experiment – Huzeyfe Torun and Semih Tumen