In most countries around the world, joining the military requires a minimum age criteria to be met. The minimum age differs from one country to another, depending on various factors such as national laws, regulations, or even cultural factors.
For the United States of America, the minimum age to join the military is 17 years old, but those who join at that age require parental consent. Otherwise the minimum age is 18 years old for any branch. Currently, there is no conscription in place for the U.S. military. However, males aged 18-25 must register with the Selective Service in case conscription is reinstated.
To determine how old you have to be for military service in the 25 most populous countries, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data compiled by the CIA World Factbook. Countries are listed in alphabetical order. Population figures came from the World Bank, and are for 2021. Military spending in current U.S. dollars and as a share of gross domestic product came from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and are also for 2021.
In China, the minimum age to join the military is 18 years old and is part of the country’s selective compulsory military service that comes with a two-year service obligation. The minimum age to join the military in other Asian countries such as India and Bangladesh is as low as 16 years old, but their service is entirely voluntary. (Here are countries with the most active military per person.)
With all eyes on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Red Army has instituted a compulsory service for men aged 18-27 years old for a 13-month service obligation. The Russian military takes roughly 260,000 conscripts each year in two semi-annual drafts. As of 2021, conscripts made up roughly 30% of the Russian military’s active-duty personnel. (These are NATO countries that have mandatory military service.)
While each country has a different perspective in building an army, there seems to be a broad consensus on age. There is, however, a wide variation on how to implement this military service across the world.
> Military service description: 16-21 years of age for voluntary military service; Bangladeshi nationality and 10th grade education required
> 2021 military spending: $4.9 billion — #44 most out of 153
> 2021 military spending as pct. of GDP: 1.3% — #44 most out of 150
> Population, 2021: 169,356,250 — #8 most populous country
> Military service description: 18-45 years of age for compulsory military service for men (women exempted); only 5%-10% of those inducted are required to serve; conscript service obligation is 10-12 months; 17-45 years of age for voluntary service
> 2021 military spending: $19.2 billion — #17 most out of 153
> 2021 military spending as pct. of GDP: 1.2% — #17 most out of 150
> Population, 2021: 214,326,220 — #6 most populous country
> Military service description: 18-22 years of age for men for selective compulsory military service, with a 2-year service obligation; women 18-19 years of age who are high school graduates and meet requirements for specific military jobs are subject to conscription; women may also volunteer; all officers are volunteers
> 2021 military spending: $293.4 billion — #2 most out of 153
> 2021 military spending as pct. of GDP: 1.7% — #2 most out of 150
> Population, 2021: 1,412,360,000 — #1 most populous country
4. DR Congo
> Military service description: 18-45 years of age for voluntary military service for men and women; 18-45 years of age for compulsory military service for men; it is unclear how much conscription is used
> 2021 military spending: $306 million — #103 most out of 153
> 2021 military spending as pct. of GDP: 0.6% — #103 most out of 150
> Population, 2021: 95,894,120 — #16 most populous country
> Military service description: Voluntary enlistment possible from age 16 for men and women; 18-30 years of age for conscript service for men; service obligation 14-36 months, followed by a 9-year reserve obligation; active service length depends on education; high school drop-outs serve for the full 36 months, while college graduates serve for lesser periods of time, depending on their education
> 2021 military spending: $5.2 billion — #42 most out of 153
> 2021 military spending as pct. of GDP: 1.3% — #42 most out of 150
> Population, 2021: 109,262,180 — #14 most populous country
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