Do female troops love divorce?
Probably not. I can’t imagine anyone loving the excruciating pain that is divorce. But the military divorce statistics released yearly by the Defense Department tell a story of a group of people who struggle to keep their marriages together.
Ever since I won a journalism fellowship in 2010 to study and write about military marriage support I’ve been carefully following the military divorce rate. On average for the entirety of the force — men and women, enlisted and officer — the rate pretty much matches what is seen in the civilian world.
But when you start looking at the numbers split up among those groups, the story changes. Far and away those that suffer military marriage problems the most are enlisted female service members.
Here’s the bad news: the divorce rate among enlisted married female troops, 7.4. percent, is still about 2.5 times higher than the rate among enlisted married men — even though there are over 7.5 times as many married enlisted men than women in the service. That’s a big burden for the ladies.
But here’s the good news: The rate among enlisted females is the lowest it’s been in 10 years — even with 2005 rates. At 7.4 percent it is 1.5 percent lower than it was in 2011.
And that has researchers at last saying that yes, there is definitely a downward trend in enlisted female divorces. One year moving downward doesn’t make a trend — neither does two. But three? That’s a pattern.
Now the big question is “why?”
That’s something no one yet has the answer to. But there are a few possibilities.
1. Male spouse self-support may be working.
Male military spouses make up a small fraction of the total military spouse population — somewhere around 13 percent at the beginning of 2014. And about the same break down is true among just the enlisted population. So spouse support services are, understandably, traditionally aimed at women because they serve the majority.
Still, the male spouse population is ever gaining traction. That’s thanks, in part, to private support organizations and the work of male spouses like Chris Pape, who founded MachoSpouse, and Jeremy Hilton, an outspoken military benefits advocate. We are more aware than ever before that there ARE male spouses and that supporting them means supporting their service members and their marriages.
2. Family support from the military is doing the trick:
As the divorce rate climbed between 2007 and 2011 among both men and women, military leaders realized that they really needed to start doing something to better support families who had already dealt with almost 10 years of war and multiple deployments. A myriad of marriage support programs, such as the Army’s Strong Bonds, were paraded out with the hope that they would give exhausted couples the boost they needed. Leaders also started pushing the programs available through MilitaryOneSource, such as the free in-person counseling.
Now, eight years later, we can see that there is a downward trend that appears to correspond with the roll-out of those programs and support. Are they to thank for the rate drop? Perhaps.
3. Females are getting out of the military before getting divorced, skewing the statistic.
According to the data released by the DoD, there were almost the exact same number of married enlisted females in the military at the beginning of fiscal 2014 as there were at the beginning of 2000 — before the wars started. That’s a drop of about 2,600 troops since 2011 when the divorce rate among that group peaked at 8.9 percent.
Since the DoD does not track the divorce rate of those who were formally in the military, there’s really no way to tell if the draw down is what is impacting the divorce rate. It could be that those who are getting out are simply waiting to dissolve their marriages until they do so.
(I sincerely hope that is not what is happening. I like it when people succeed).
4. All of the above.
This seems like the most logical option to me. It’s unlikely that a rate trend like this can be blamed on just one thing — like free marriage counseling from MilitaryOneSource, for example. It’s far more probable that some of these things make the rate go down, others make the rate go up and the result is the change that we are seeing.
Tell us — what are your tricks to staying married in the military?
Photos courtesy U.S. Air Force.