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National Service at 18: Economic Benefits and Drawbacks for the UK

Updated: May 28

The Economic Impact of Compelling National Service for 18-Year-Olds in the UK

The idea of compulsory national service for 18-year-olds is not new and has been implemented in various forms across several European countries. However, the potential introduction of such a scheme in the UK raises significant questions about its impact on the economy. In this blog post, we will explore the possible economic repercussions of mandating 12 months of national service in the army for all 18-year-olds, considering both the immediate and long-term effects.

Immediate Economic Impact

Employment and Youth Labor Market

One of the immediate impacts of compulsory national service would be on the youth labor market. By removing a significant portion of 18-year-olds from the workforce for a year, there would be a temporary reduction in the supply of young labor. This could alleviate some youth unemployment pressures in the short term, as job competition among young people would decrease. However, the sudden influx of young people returning to the job market after their service could lead to increased competition and potentially higher unemployment rates among this age group.

Cost of Remuneration

The financial cost of remunerating new recruits would be substantial. European countries with similar systems, such as Greece and Finland, have faced significant budget allocations to cover salaries, training, housing, and other benefits for conscripts. For the UK, funding this initiative could necessitate increased government spending or reallocation of funds from other areas. The strain on public finances could lead to higher taxes or cuts in other public services, impacting the broader economy.

Long-Term Economic Impact

Human Capital Development

Compulsory national service could influence human capital development. While some argue that military service instills discipline, teamwork, and leadership skills, others contend that it delays entry into higher education and the professional workforce. Countries like Germany, which phased out conscription in 2011, experienced a surge in university enrolments post-conscription, suggesting that compulsory service might hinder immediate educational progression and professional development.

Entrepreneurial Cost

Perhaps one of the most critical long-term impacts is the entrepreneurial cost. Delaying the entry of young individuals into the workforce or higher education for a year can have a cascading effect on entrepreneurial activities. Young entrepreneurs often drive innovation and economic growth. By postponing their career start, the UK could see a delay in the creation of startups and new businesses, which are essential for job creation and economic dynamism. Studies have shown that countries with mandatory national service, like Austria and Norway, often face criticisms for stifling early entrepreneurial initiatives.

Comparative Analysis with European Countries


Finland requires its male citizens to undertake military service, with various economic implications. While the Finnish model emphasises skill development and national cohesion, it also places a considerable financial burden on the state. The Finnish economy absorbs this cost, but critics argue that the time spent in service delays higher education and workforce entry, impacting long-term economic growth.


Switzerland's model of compulsory service includes not only military but also civil service options. This broader approach provides some economic benefits, such as the development of a more versatile skill set among young people. However, similar to Finland, the economic cost is high, and the delay in entering the labor market can hinder long-term career progression and economic contributions from the youth.


In Greece, where military service is mandatory, the economic impact is compounded by the country’s ongoing financial challenges. High youth unemployment rates and economic instability have made the conscription system a point of contention, with many arguing that it exacerbates the country’s economic woes by delaying young people's entry into the productive economy.


The introduction of a compelling national service for all 18-year-olds in the UK would have profound economic implications. While it might offer short-term benefits such as reduced youth unemployment and the development of certain skills, the long-term effects could be detrimental. The cost of remuneration, potential delays in higher education and professional careers, and the stifling of entrepreneurial activity present significant challenges.

Learning from the experiences of other European countries, it is clear that while national service can foster certain societal benefits, it also comes with considerable economic costs. Policymakers must weigh these factors carefully to ensure that the potential benefits of such a program do not come at the expense of long-term economic vitality and growth.

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