For five years I have written about the annual military divorce rate. And every single story has noted this one fact, reflected firmly in the numbers: military marriage is really, really hard for female service members. It’s so hard, the numbers say, that female service members divorce at two to three times the rate of their male coworkers.
For every male soldier, airman, sailor or Marine whose marriage disintegrates, two or three females are going through the same exact thing. That’s a big deal. In the Army in 2011, for example, 9.6 percent of the enlisted females who were married at the beginning of that year divorced before 2012, while only 3.3 percent of enlisted men endured the same relational fate.
That fact baffles researchers from a information standpoint, they tell me. They simple have no data to show why this is true, year after year. They have guessed that it has to do with the extra stress females may feel in environments where the traditional hold by men still often shines through. Or maybe it has to do with the duel role many of them still balance between taking care of their families and a high military optempo.
That stuff is stressful. And stress, researchers know, is bad for relationships, bad for marriages.
But the story, thankfully, no longer stops there.
The newly released 2015 military divorce rates add to a new narrative, one where things might be getting easier and less stressful for female service members. And that’s good — very, very good.
Since 2011, when the divorce rate across the military was at an all-time high, the rate of female divorces has dropped steadily from 8 to 6.2 percent. That’s quite the tidy little decline.
If you break down those numbers you can see even better what we are talking about. Among enlisted female sailors between 2014 and 2015, for example, the rate dropped from 7.5 to 6.5 percent in just one year.
Officer divorce rates, which are always lower than enlisted (researchers point to socioeconomic status and education level for why this is true), dropped among females .40 percent in the Air Force over 2015 to 2.8 percent. That rate had been previously virtually unchanged since 2005.
In short: something is changing for female military marriages — something that makes life less stressful.
The male divorce rate across the services has also seen an ever so slight decline over time, but nothing near the steady march that the female rate has experienced.
Ben Karney, a RAND Corp. researcher and military divorce expert, says that the declining divorce rate among female troops is likely to blame on incremental policy changes within the Defense Department — although he has no data to back that up, he notes.
But it’s clear that whatever officials are doing to make life less easier for females in the military workplace — could be sexual harassment training, or family friendly policies or even just a slowing of deployment rates — is working.
And that’s good news for everyone.