August 1, 2000
Family patterns for military personnel have changed dramatically since the institution of the All-Volunteer Force in 1973. Foremost among those changes has been an increase in the proportion of enlisted members with families. The percentage of enlisted service members who are married rose from approximately 40 percent in fiscal year 1973 to a peak of 57 percent in fiscal year 1994. Since then, that proportion has dropped slightly, to over 53 percent in fiscal year 1998.
The changing structure of the force raises some difficult policy questions, particularly regarding how to best support young military families. First-term service members and their spouses consistently cite finances and housing as their most pressing concerns. A 1993 study, “Family Service and Initial Term of Service,” conducted by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) found that 65 percent of first-term married service members, and 82.5 percent of their spouses, report having difficulty paying their bills.
Determining the best way to support junior military members remains an important challenge. Before examining this policy issue, analysts need to address some basic factual issues, including: 1. Are increases in the number of enlisted members with families consistent with trends in the civilian sector? 2. Do military members with dependents perform differently than those without dependents (so-called dependents status)?
The following research is intended to shed light on those two questions. Regarding family status, we find that military personnel are more likely to be married and to have children than their civilian counterparts are even when controlling for a variety of demographic factors. Regarding performance, we find that soldiers with families are less likely to complete their initial term of service than those without. However, soldiers with families are more likely to continue past their initial term of service.