Friday, September 18, 2009

Divorce, USAF edition

Somebody on the blogroll, or maybe it was a commenter, asked about divorce statistics for people serving on active duty in the armed forces. It just so happened that in its 21 September edition, the Air Force Times (subscription required) published the results of its own study of divorce among Air Force servicemen and women.

Now keep in mind that the Air Force is the best educated and most religious of all the military services, and its statistics are likely not representative of the divorce rate among, say, combat infantrymen. But with that caveat, here is the article, interspersed with my own commentary.

As of August, 70.9 percent of officers and 56.3 percent of enlisted were married, and 4.4 percent of active-duty officers and 7.3 percent of enlisted airmen were divorced.

I can only assume, as I assume the honesty of the Air Force Times, that the 4.4 percent figure includes those who have remarried. These numbers seem encouraging, but they are only a snapshot. They don’t really tell the lifetime likelihood of divorce that an individual serviceman faces.

Among adults in the general population, 50.5 percent were married and 10.5 percent were divorced as of 2007, the latest year for which data is available from the U.S. Census Bureau.

I should point out here that the relevant comparison for measuring the stress of military service on family life is not to compare service members to the population at large, but compare them to that subset with good health and stable employment.

An analysis by Air Force Times of the service’s marriage and divorce statistics turned up surprising conclusions. Many defy easy explanation.

  • Female airmen are two to three times more likely than male airmen to be divorced and are less likely to be married. Among active-duty officers, 3.1 percent of men and 10 percent of women are divorced. For enlisted, the numbers are 5.8 percent of men and 13.1 percent of women.

  • Officer career fields with both the highest and lowest percentages of divorce are tied to health care. Physicians generally are the least likely to be divorced, and nurses, physician assistants and health care administrators the most likely. Operating room nurses have the highest percentage of divorce, 15.6 percent.

I’m not sure what “defies explanation” about this. I would have predicted that two keys to not getting divorced would be (1) have a high-status job and (2) don’t work with classes of people who are substantially higher status than your husband.

  • Some enlisted career fields with the lowest divorce percentages are those most heavily deployed – pararescue; survival, evasion, resistance and escape; tactical air control party; and security forces. Those with the highest percentages include the fields of education and training, paralegal, personnel, family support center and military training instructor.

Measuring divorce by deployability of career field is only a rough proxy of the deployment history of those servicemen who actually get divorced.

The reasons for divorce among airmen are myriad, said Chaplain (Maj.) David Carr, the marriage and family coordinator in the resource division of the Chaplain Corps College, co-located with the Army Chaplain School at Fort Jackson, S.C. But a major factor, he said, is a misunderstanding of what marriage should be and how much work it involves.

Honestly, I’ve never understood what this means. I understand how parenthood is a lot of work. I understand how having a wife (or husband, for that matter) means having someone to make you do stuff you wouldn’t otherwise do. But how is marriage itself work?

Furthermore, Chaplain Carr isn’t necessarily the best judge of this. Since nobody has to give an explanation in court anymore about why they are seeking divorce, all we have are the anecdotes of divorced or struggling couples. And as the article makes clear, those claim that deployment has been a tremendous strain, for a variety of reasons.

The deployments, the TACP operator [being interviewed] said, placed a strain on an essential part of marriage: trust. He sometimes heard about his wife being at a party and became jealous simply because she was around other men. [Note to Mrs. Φ: if I’m ever a “deployed service member,” and you aren’t home or shopping, you’d better be in church, dammit!]

A lack of trust has been a problem that Master Sgt. Mark Wilson has seen in other marriages during his seven deployments. Wilson, the plans and programs superintendent for the 96th Security Forces Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, FL, described himself as happily married for 22 years.

“I’ve seen several marriage fail [because of it],” he said. “In fact, I’ve seen attempted suicides over jealousy or somebody thinking that their husband or their wife is cheating on them while they’re away. It’s mainly because of the unknown.”

Rather, it’s mainly because of the unproven, which is not the same thing.


Kirt33 said...

But how is marriage itself work?

I've always taken it to mean that marriage is an 'emotional' sort of work, inasmuch as it requires one to be constantly compromising, considering one's spouse's feelings, or whatnot. That exacts a psychic toll of sorts, even if it's not strictly physical 'work'.

Matthew said...

Marriage is hard work because modern women make it so. Arranged marriages in nations that don't believe in love? Not so much.

Trumwill said...

I am tempted to make some snarky comments Eumaios's way, but I will refrain in the name of productivity.

Kirt said more or less what I was going to say. Marriage is work. It means doing things you would prefer not do, forcing yourself to consider things you would prefer not consider, and so on. On the whole I think being married is less work than being single, and a lot of the work of marriage can be quite rewarding work, but it's still work.

Elusive Wapiti said...

It's not very hard for me to explain at all either why female Airmen are more likely to divorce and to be divorced.

In addition to the possible factors you list, consider politics: women who go into the military are much more likely to be politically liberal and less 'traditional' than the men who enter the military. Moreover, many women enter the military because of the heavily subsidized childcare the military gives them, as well as a secure job and sex-normed performance standards. This is a huge carrot for single-moms-by-choice, who likely got that way by refusing to marry the father of their children or by booting his sorry ass out of the house. The political liberal-fascist tendencies of the single mom are well known and documented.

Re: work. Marriage is only work insofar as it requires one to consider the needs of another higher than their own. Which may be why it is so hard--therefore 'work'--to a woman, a person accustomed to putting her needs over that of anyone else around her.

Burke said...

Wapiti: I believe you are on to something about the kind of women who would find life in the USAF attractive. The AF offers servicemembers a vast service infrastructure, guaranteed housing commensurate with family size, free medical care, etc. It, in many respects, a pristine welfare state-within-a-state.

A decade ago, the AF used to publish detailed demographic data on its members at its Personnel Center site. (It no longer does.) I remember being appalled at the rate of single motherhood among the enlisted force. IIRC, the percentage of female Technical Sergeants (TSgt) were single parents was around 40%. Now, keep in mind, TSgt is the grade that the average airman can expect to reach in the course of a 20-year military career. So even though the single-motherhood rate at any moment is a lot lower, I would take that 40% as the probability that a female enlisted will spend at least a portion of her career as a single mother. And why not? The system makes it easy.

Elusive Wapiti said...

I tried to dig and find demographic data of service members with not much luck.

The best I could find was this link which stated that 6% of mil families are single-parent households.

Interestingly, this source claimed that male-headed single-parent households outnumber female-headed ones by 2.8:1. Given that women are 14% of the military, they are overrepresented in the single-parent ranks by about 200%.