Home / Defense and security / Articles / How many people are in the US military? A demographic overview

As of September 2023, the US military consisted of 2.86 million people worldwide. The CIA reports that the US has the world’s third-largest active military by size, surpassed only by China and India in 2023.

These forces are spread across six main service branches: the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and, as of 2019, the Space Force – all tasked to protect and service the US.

The makeup of the US military has changed over time due to external circumstances, like war and geopolitical tension, and internal change, such as the end of racial segregation and the inclusion of women into the armed forces.

How many people are in the military?

The military includes 2,079,142 military personnel and 778,539 civilians as of September 2023.[1] The US military's strength of 2.86 million troops is slightly greater than the population of Chicago, Illinois, the country's third-largest city.

Of those military members, the Department of Defense (DoD) listed nearly 1.29 million people as active-duty troops, and 767,238 as national guard/reserves.

Military forces not in the total include retired or standby reserves, along with the 38,825 members of the Coast Guard, which are operated by the Department of Homeland Security and not the DoD.[2]

In addition to its military personnel, the DoD employs 778,539 civilian workers through appropriated funds. These funds are part of the budget allocated by the government at the start of each fiscal year, intended for contractors who, while not serving in military capacities, are integral to the federal civil service system.

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As of September 2023, reported active-duty troops included:

  • 453,551 in the Army
  • 332,322 in the Navy
  • 318,698 in the Air Force
  • 172,577 in the Marine Corps
  • 8,879 in the Space Force.

Active-duty military figures have fallen 64.3% from their peak during the Vietnam War in 1968, leveling off until troop size dropped again in 1991 following the end of the Cold War.[3]

Since then, troop levels have remained relatively stable, even during US conflicts in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

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The US has recently had issues meeting recruitment requirements. In 2023, the military was 41,000 people shy of its recruiting goal, partially due to the strength of the US economy, low trust in institutions among the Gen Z demographic, and a smaller population of applicants compared to other generations.

What are the military’s demographics?

In 2022, Military OneSource — a DoD website providing resources on active-duty, National Guard, and Reserve service members — released an annual report on the US military outlining the demographics of each service branch by race, ethnicity, gender, and age, among other factors.

Every branch of the military, apart from the Marine Corps, had a higher overall representation of racial minorities than the US population. However, representation varies depending on the service branch.

In the Army, 21% of the soldiers are Black or African American, totaling 97,482 troops. This percentage is 50% higher than their 14% representation in the US population, showing they have a more substantial presence in the Army.

The Space Force was the only branch with a higher proportion of Asian Americans than the US population.

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From 2010 to 2022, the armed forces representation of racial minorities, rose slightly from 30% to 31.2%, remaining higher than the 24.5% non-white demographic share of the US population in 2022.

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The Marine Corps stands out as the only branch with a higher percentage of Hispanic or Latino members compared to the US population. The other branches have slightly lower proportions of Hispanic or Latino service members, ranging from 1-5% below the national average.

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How many women are in the military?

As of 2022, women constituted an average of 17.5% of all active-duty military personnel, totaling nearly 229,000 members. For context, women were first granted the ability to serve as permanent members of the armed services under the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, signed into law on June 12, 1948.[4]

1975’s Public Law 94-106 allowed women to be admitted into military colleges, furthering their mobility within the ranks of the armed forces.

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The percentage of women actively serving in all military branches has risen from 14.6% in 2005 to 17.5% by 2022 — an overall increase of 20%.

All female participation in the military is voluntary. As of January 2016, women are not required to register for Selective Service and are not subject to potential military drafts. Currently, only men ages 18 through 25 are required to register for the draft.

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What's the average age of a US soldier?

In 2022, the average age of an active-duty military member across all branches was 28.5 years old. By branch, the youngest to oldest average ages were:

  • Marine Corps (25.3 years)
  • Army (28.9 years)
  • Navy (29.0 years)
  • Air Force (29.2 years)
  • Space Force (31.4 years)

The Marine Corps retains the youngest soldier on average due to the extreme physically demanding nature of the training involved throughout service.

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Where does this data come from?

Data on active-duty troops, Reserve, and DoD civilian figures come from the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC). The DMDC collects data on military personnel, manpower, training, finances, and other statistics for the Defense Department.

Additional insights on gender, racial, ethnic, and age demographics across the five DoD military branches come from the 2022 Demographics Profile of the Military Community, published by Military OneSource. The annual report presents a synthesis of demographic information on military members and families in fiscal year 2022.

Learn more about why young Americans don’t want to join the military and where US troops are stationed, and get the data directly in your inbox by signing up for our email newsletter.

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This total does not include personnel on temporary duty or deployed in support of contingency operations, as well as civilians employed by the military who do not fall under appropriated DoD funding.


The Coast Guard was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003 from the Department of Transportation following the September 11th terrorist attacks. While its mission of protecting the Nation’s maritime sovereignty did not change during the transition, its operations better aligned with the mission of the DHS to protect American citizens at home.


The Space Force is excluded from this calculation since it was created in 2019.


Prior to this law, women served in the US as nurses, volunteers, and reserves.