Military pay rates during World War Two compared to 2019

WWII reenactors at 2012 Chino Air Show (plus one participant from the audience). Photo by James Ulvog.

What were the pay rates during World War Two in contrast to pay rates in the U.S. military today? What is the ratio of today’s pay compared to WWII?

The Navy CyberSpace website provides 2019 U.S. Military Basic Pay Charts.

That same web site also helpfully provides 1942-1946 U.S. Military Pay Charts.

Both pay scales list the rate of pay for all officer and enlisted ranks, ranging from starting to over 30 years experience.

I put together a list of ranks and experience levels, making estimates of when various promotions would have been received. Those estimates are based on when I was on active duty modified for what I think has happened to promotion timing. My guesses may be way off.

Then I pulled the pay rate for those grades/experience levels from WW2 and 2019. Finally, the table shows the ratio of pay rate today to the pay rate in WW2.

American weapons from WWII on display at 2012 Chino Air Show, courtesy of Living History Group. Photo by James Ulvog.

Here’s the data:

rank yr svc WWII 2019 ratio
private E-1 1         50.00    1,681.00       34
corporal E-2 3         56.70    1,884.00       33
sergeant E-3 5         69.30    2,233.00       32
2nd Lieutenant O-1 1       150.00    3,189.00       21
1st Lieutenant O-2 3       175.00    4,819.00       28
Captain, newly promoted O-3 5       220.00    5,672.00       26
Captain, before promotion O-3 9       230.00    6,241.00       27
Major O-4 10       287.50    7,236.00       25


In terms of pondering some sort of an average, it looks like company grade officers’ pay, in other words Lieutenants and Captains, has increased something like 26 times.

For privates through E-3 sergeants, looks like pay has increased something in the range of 33 fold.

A rough average would reflect there are far more enlisted soldiers than officers, so an overall average might in the range of a 31 fold increase in pay from WWII until now. Rounding that off a bit to reflect the roughness of this analysis might give us a 30 fold increase.

American weapons from World War 2 on display at 2012 Chino Air Show. Photo by James Ulvog

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