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Military Divorce Rates Aren’t as High as You Might Think

The Pentagon released it’s annual updated military divorce rate statistics to me yesterday. In 2012, according to the report, 3.5 percent of those across the entire military who were married at the beginning of the year fiscal year divorced by the end of it.

3.5 percent.

This number always surprises me because it’s, well, not that high. Don’t get me wrong — in my view any divorce is one divorce too many. But this 3.5 percent, down from 3.7 percent in 2011, is not the scary statistic I expect to see. In fact, that rate is a little lower than the civilian population (or at least as far as can be guessed – the civilian rate is not calculated the same way and doesn’t include every state).

I expect it to be higher because I always hear that SO many military marriages end in divorce. I am always told that we are all falling apart at the seams, that military marriage and infidelity go hand-in-hand, that of COURSE we are going to get divorced after all that war. As if failure is a forgone conclusion.

3.5 percent.

Jacey, who in addition to being our fabulous editor-in-chief has written books about and conducts classes on military marriage support, says the reason everyone thinks military marriages are constantly ending is because of their own perceptions. If you are having challenges in your marriage, she said, all you see around you are people who are feeling the same.

And it doesn’t help that statistics are thrown around willy-nilly. How often have we heard that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce? But that shocking statistic is far from true. 

Of course, 3.5 percent doesn’t tell the whole story. Enlisted female soldiers, for example, sport a rate that is triple — triple! — that of their male counterparts at 9.4 percent. And the average divorce rate for all females across all services is 7.8 percent, showing that being a female servicemember comes with a lot more home stress than being a male one.

And 3.5 percent IS a full percentage point higher than the overall divorce rate in fiscal 2001, before American entered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, before serivcemembers were oh-so-stressed.

But as Benjamin Karney, a researcher with UCLA and the Rand Corp., points out, the rate stays fairly low thanks to our overall resilience. He theorizes that we are more likely to stay married even in the face of stress thanks to our overall more traditional belief system, a feeling of duty and the pay raises that come from being married in the service.

Are you surprised that the rate is only 3.5 percent – or did you expect it to be lower?

About Amy Bushatz

Amy is the managing editor of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is an Associate Editor. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on NPR and in the New York Times. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.