More than a third of under-40s would refuse conscription in the event of a world war

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
January 26, 2024, 5:15 PM GMT+0

This figure is higher than the number who say they would either volunteer or accept conscription - although if the British mainland were under threat more would be willing to fight

As we approach the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, nations across Europe are increasingly bracing for conflict. Earlier this month the head of the Swedish military said that Swedes needed to “prepare themselves mentally” for war with Russia.

Here in the UK this week, defence secretary Grant Shapps has said that we are “moving from a post-war to a pre-war world”, while General Sir Patrick Sanders – Britain’s most senior army officer – called for an increase in the size of the army and said that the country needed to increase preparedness for conflict.

While General Sanders stopped short of calling for conscription, speculation has nevertheless broken out in the media about whether it would be introduced, and whether or not today’s young generations are willing to serve.

Now the results of a new YouGov survey show that 38% of under-40s say they would refuse to serve in the armed forces in the event of a new world war, and 30% say they would not serve even if Britain was facing imminent invasion.

The 18-40 age range is similar to that which the British government initially used for conscription in both the first and second world wars.

One in fourteen (7%) say they would volunteer for the armed forces if a world war broke out, rising to 11% in the event that the British mainland itself was under threat. Others say that although they would not serve, they would not resist conscription if the time came – 21% in the case of a world war, and 23% in the specific case that Britain faces invasion.

In both scenarios around a third are either unsure or believe the armed forces would not want them due to age or disability.

Women in the conscription age bracket are more likely to refuse to serve than men: 43% say so in the event of a world war (compared to 32% of men) and 35% say so in the event the British Isles were about to come under direct attack (compared to 25% of men).

In the event of a world war 39-47% of 18-40 year old men say they would volunteer or accept conscription across the two scenarios, compared to 19-24% of women the same age.

Should women be conscripted in the event of a world war?

Were conscription to be introduced, a new question the government would have to grapple with is whether women should be asked to go into the line of fire.

The large majority of the public (72%) say that women should be conscripted. This is comprised of 42% who think they should serve on the exact same basis as men versus 30% who think there should be some restrictions on the roles they can perform (e.g. perhaps not serving in the infantry).

Those women of conscription age (18-40) are the most likely to say women should not be conscripted, at 19% - although three times as many (60%) think women should serve in the armed forces in some capacity.

See the full results here

Photo: Getty

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