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As Luck Would Have It: The Effect of the Vietnam Draft Lottery on Long-Term Career Outcomes



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    • The author’s affiliation is Department of Strategy, INSEAD, Boulevard de Constance, Fontainebleau, France. E-mail: This is a revised version of Chapter 4 of my Northwestern University Ph.D. dissertation. I would like to thank Stefan Bender, Douglas Frank Sr., Shane Greenstein, Amine Ouazad, Paul Oyer, Stephen Raphael (the editor), Scott Schaefer, Scott Stern, Tim Van Zandt, Dennis Yao, Peter Zemsky, and two anonymous referees for helpful comments and suggestions. I would also like to thank Hilary Bulman at Hay Group and David Pattison at the Social Security Administration for providing some of the data used herein. All errors are my own.


Using an original data set matching individual birthdays to Vietnam War draft lottery numbers, I study how the random lottery number assignment affects representation in a sample of top corporate executives decades after the war’s end. I find that men with lottery numbers placing them at risk of induction are underrepresented among top U.S. executives in the 1990s. In contrast, I find that high draft risk is positively correlated with indicators of human capital such as earnings and speed of reaching the executive ranks. If the executives are viewed as the winners of a multi-stage elimination tournament that selected on productivity, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that draft risk led to a mean-reducing spread in the productivity distribution of draft-eligible males.