(Image Source: DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Sara Keller, U.S. Air Force/Released)
Today, there’s a strong chance many people don’t know a military veteran.
In 1980, 18% of the population had served in the military. Now it’s closer to 7%, according to a Pew Research Center report. Less than half of a percent of the U.S. population is currently serving, the L.A. Times reports, noting it was at the lowest rate since World War II.
That also means fewer than ever of us have a relative that has served — only a third of the 18 to 29-year-old set have, compared with 79% of those aged 50 to 64, the Pew study, called “The Military-Civilian Gap,” found.
That lack of contact could mean a lack of knowledge in an area we may be lead by misguided assumptions. For example, take the results of an online survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, in which 1,381 Americans were asked, while viewing a photo of a person who appeared to be homeless, what conclusions they would make about the person.
“After the 87-percent of people who identify the man as homeless—almost half of respondents label the homeless-looking person as a military veteran,” a blog on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs notes.
The truth of the matter is, while veterans do make up a larger portion of the homeless population, it’s by a fraction of a percent — 0.26% of all veterans are homeless, compared with 0.17% of the overall U.S. population, according to Census data on veteran and homeless and general populations published by to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Marketing to veterans can be a challenge when brands have no close connections to the community. Separating the fact from the fiction can help marketers better target this valuable affinity group.
Fiction vs. reality
In the above example, what’s more important than the negative imagery is the leap between fiction and reality. Does your marketing campaign take into account, for example, the fact that about half of all veterans are 65 or older? Or that veterans, men and women alike, boast a higher than average income?
If access to veterans and authentic veteran stories is hampering the way you market to those who’ve served, it can also act against your Veteran’s Day or veteran/military program’s marketing reach.
Here are nine hard and fast facts about veterans today:
1. Veterans are older. The median age for all male vets was 64 in 2014 (compared to a median of 41 for male non-veterans, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs), and nearly half of them are over the age of 65, according to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics. (Median for women was 41 for veterans, 46 for non-vets.)
2. Enlisted women are on the rise. That stock photo may feature middle-aged men in photos, but now more than 10% of vets are women, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Projections by the VA predict by 2040 women will make up 15.9% of veterans.
3. Veterans are real business pros. Veterans are great entrepreneurs — 7.5% of U.S. firms are majority owned by veterans. Also, veteran-run firms stay open longer than the average business, according the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs, released in 2016.
4. Former service personnel are more active off the field. Most veterans have never seen a battlefield, the organization Got Your 6 noted in their Veterans’ Civic Health Index. According to a report by the Center for Public Police and Private Enterprise, 1.1 million of the 1.4 million active duty troops were never deployed.
5. They’re more likely to be homeowners. More veterans are homeowners than the average American; 79% of vets own homes, compared to 63% of non-veteran civilians, according to data published by Trulia, the real estate firm. notes. The difference is attributed that to the fact that veterans tend to skew older, a population more likely to own a home.
6. They get hitched. According to 2014 Census data, male veterans were raking in a median of $38,978, compared with $32,446 by their non-veteran counterparts. For female veterans the leap is much more significant: $32,446, compared with $22,505 for nonveterans in 2015, Veterans Advantage notes.
7. Veterans go for the rural and small-town life. Veterans steer clear of the big cities, instead preferring smaller cities and rural areas, Trulia found, and predominantly communities with a military base. A quarter live in rural areas, the U.S. Census reports. It appears younger vets (post-9/11 and Gulf War era) are more likely to move south, whereas older vets cluster in the Northeast. Montana, Maine and Alaska have the highest proportion of vets, with one in 10 people having served, the Washington Post reports.
8. Most saw the Vietnam War. That’s where the largest percentage of today’s veterans served — 7.4 million, or 33%, according to U.S. Census data. The next-largest group is the Gulf War-era vets, making up 30%, or 6.5 million, of the population. (The VA defines as this group as having served primarily between Aug. 2, 1990, and Sept. 11, 2001.)
10. They redefine civic duty. Veterans vote in local elections — in fact, 74% of them did, according to U.S. Census data, compared with 57% of civilians. They volunteer an average of 43 more hours per year than civilians, and they are more likely to give to charity and contact public officials, according to the Civic Health Index.