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Veterans Day now honors a smaller and changing population of those who have served

A student plants miniature flags on a Michigan high school front lawn Thursday to honor American veterans. Their numbers have been declining since 1980, according a Pew Research Center Study, but also changing demographically, as well.
A student plants miniature flags on a Michigan high school front lawn Thursday to honor American veterans. Their numbers have been declining since 1980, according a Pew Research Center Study, but also changing demographically, as well. AP

As America honors its veterans Friday, their population is shrinking and undergoing dramatic change.

The number of men and women with military backgrounds has dropped by more than half since 1980, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. Four decades ago, 18 percent of adults were either in or had spent time in the service. By 2014, it was 8 percent, with another 1 percent in the reserves, the U.S. Census-based study showed.

Even steeper was the decline among men: from 37 percent in 1980 to 16 percent in 2014.

Developments like the elimination of the military draft, which ended in 1973 as the Vietnam War was winding down, is a factor in the shrinking veteran population. But Pew said the main reason is death. Older veterans are passing away.

In 2013, a third of living veterans had served in Vietnam, and nearly a third had served during the the time of the Gulf War. But only 9 percent had served in the Korean War and just 5 percent remained from World War II.

Even as the population declines, its makeup is changing, reflecting the demographic and cultural shifts in the country. Pew said projections show that the number of female veterans will nearly double over the next three decades, from 9 percent to 17 percent. The numbers of racial and ethnic minorities who have served will increase as well.

David Goldstein: 202-383-6105, @GoldsteinDavidJ

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