USC Price School of Public Policy

McCarthy, coauthors win research award for study on effects of GI Bill

December 19, 2016

McCarthy research award

By Cristy Lytal

Whom shall I marry? The answer to this question seems to have changed for many veterans after taking advantage of the educational benefits of the World War II GI Bill, according to research coauthored by USC Price Professor T.J. McCarthy.

Assistant Professor T.J. McCarthy

Assistant Professor T.J. McCarthy

Published in the journal Demography, the paper “War and marriage: Assortative mating and the World War II GI Bill” – written by McCarthy and his collaborators – won the 2016 Excellence in Research on Military and Veteran Families Award. Conferred by the Military Family Research Institute (MFRI) at Purdue University, the award recognizes the year’s best scientific article that combines exceptional rigor with important insights about military and veteran families.

“Our goal at MFRI is to increase the impact of research, and this award helps to strengthen connections between researchers, policymakers and practitioners,” said Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, director of MFRI. “We are thrilled to be able recognize and celebrate the excellent work of these outstanding scholars.”

McCarthy began the research while still a graduate student at UC Davis. In collaboration with Professor Marianne E. Page and fellow graduate students Matthew F. Larsen, Jeremy G. Moulton and Ankur J. Patel, he used quantitative methods to study the impact of the World War II GI Bill on social outcomes.

“There’s a lot of really famous work by Gary Becker, the Nobel Prize winner in economics, on who marries who and why,” McCarthy said. “And one of his stronger theoretical results was that potential spouses will match on education. So in essence, we wanted to provide a test of that.”

Power of education

The authors found that the World War II GI Bill changed not only men’s educational attainment, but also their marital prospects. Specifically, getting a college degree through the GI Bill enabled veterans to marry women with two more years of high school education. This, in turn, positively affected their children’s educational attainment and earning potential.

“Knowing more about what education actually does for you — that really informs the costs and benefits of education policy,” McCarthy said. “And that alters the incentives to get education and to support education.”

McCarthy and his coauthors revealed these impactful findings in the October 2015 issue of Demography, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Population Association of America.

Prestigious distinction

A group of 16 distinguished researchers selected this paper as the winner of the MFRI award after reviewing all research published about military and veteran families in 2015 — a pool of 500 articles. The award was presented on Nov. 16 at the headquarters of the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA), a nonprofit educational organization in Arlington, Va.

“It brings a lot of visibility to this work, and that’s really essential to all of this,” said McCarthy. “We’re all very cognizant of real-world impacts and actually getting this information to practitioners. And so that’s the most exciting part for us: we’re of course very gratified to be recognized, but this gives it extra potential to be seen and actually translated into practice.”