These Countries Have the Most Citizens Reaching Military Age Each Year, and Where the US Ranks

The strength of a nation’s military is determined not just by its naval vessels and firepower, but also by the personnel at its disposal. A country requires both men and women to manage the operations of ships, tanks, and various other weaponry. Moreover, nations possessing a substantial population of citizens within the eligible military age range can utilize this demographic advantage to field a capable and powerful armed forces. For example, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both nations escalated their mobilization initiatives. (Check out the countries with the 20 strongest militaries.)

To identify the countries with the most residents reaching military age, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2023 data from GlobalFirepower, an annually updated defense-related statistics website with information on 145 countries. We ranked countries by the number of residents coming of age annually in each country. We included active-duty, reserves, and paramilitary forces. From Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Military Expenditure Database, we included total military spending by country in 2021 and military spending as a percentage of gross domestic product. 2021 population figures came from the World Bank.

Every country sets its own military eligibility age. Most countries allow men and women to join the armed forces starting at 18, a review by the CIA shows. Yet some nations permit younger people to enter the military. The United Kingdom’s military age ranges from 16 to 36. But anyone younger than 18 needs parental permission. In the U.S., men and women can join at 17 with a parent’s consent. Without parents’ permission, men and women can join at 18. (Here U.S. military pay at every pay grade.)

Not surprising considering India is the second most populated nation and growing (while China’s population is in decline), India has the most citizens reaching military age annually at nearly 24 million. It currently has a force of 1.45 million active-duty members, second out of the 145 countries studied. India’s military age starts at 16-and-a-half years.

Meanwhile, China’s annual cohort coming into military age is nearly 20 million. With 2 million active service members, China fields the largest military on the globe. Chinese citizens can join at age 18 under what is termed a selective compulsory service obligation. Each year the People’s Liberation Army establishes a quota the provinces must meet for sailors and soldiers. If a province fails to provide the required number of volunteers, then the local government can conscript citizens into the military.

Click here to see 11 countries where the most people reach military age each year.

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