A decade into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, military marriages are holding up pretty well against those of their civilian counterparts, according to new research from the University of California, Los Angeles.
"After all the stories about PTSD, TBI, depression and suicide, it's fair to wonder how the average military wife and husband are getting along. It comes as something of a surprise that — even after a decade of combat and lengthy separations — military families break up less often than their civilian counterparts," writes Mark Thompson in the Time magazine Battlelands blog. And his big question is "how come?"
In the study, published in the Journal of Family Issues, the authors said that the conflicts have been accompanied by lots of concern about "the vulnerability of military marriages," marked by alarming headlines like "After War, Love Can Be a Battlefield." And the researchers said that even service members and their spouses worry that the stress will lead to increased risk of divorce.
But the study found that doesn't seem to be the case. "Overall, these results speak to the resilience of military marriages," the study authors concluded. "Despite the demands of military service and the threat of long separations, service members are nevertheless more likely to be married than matched civilians. Despite the fact that divorce rates have been rising within the military in recent years, service members are still no more likely to be divorced than comparable civilians."
The researchers looked only at the marriages of male service members, who make up about 85 percent of the active military. And they controlled for age, race/ethnicity, educational attainment and employment. Those factors were selected because they are "some of the most significant observable differences" between those in the military and those who are not.
They looked at data from the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System from 1998 to 2005 — four years before and four years after the onset of the current conflicts — and compared it to civilian marriage data from the March Current Population Surveys from the same years, using comparable groups.
They found, among other things, that military men are more likely to be married than comparable civilian men. That held true whether one was an officer or an enlisted man.
Enlisted men "report being currently divorced at either the same rates or lower rates than civilian men with comparable education, age, race/ethnicity, employment status and time period, and this generalization holds true across age ranges and racial/ethnic groups," they wrote.
They had predicted that the differences would be highest where the likelihood of being divorced is higher in civilian populations, among non-whites and younger men. It proved not to be the case.
An article in the News Tribune said the good news on military marriages is not entirely consistent across the board. Karen Peterson said, "An exception to surprisingly positive data on military marriage remains divorce rates among female service members. Though excluded from closer scrutiny in the new report, marriages of female troops continue to dissolve at rates double that of military men, and at a significantly higher pace than reported for female civilians of similar age and educational background.
"A total of 29,456 service members got divorced in fiscal 2011, a dissolution rate of 3.7 percent. That was slightly higher than 3.6 percent in 2010, continuing a gradual rise from 3.1 percent reported in 2005."
But she said that in 2000, one year before the U.S. became involved in Afghanistan and three years before it did in Iraq, the military’s overall divorce rate was 3.7 percent — same as last year's, after a decade of war.
Study authors Benjamin R. Karney, David S. Loughran and Michael S. Pollard cited a couple of factors that limit the conclusions that can be drawn from the results of their research. It's possible, they said, that there are other differences between civilian and military families for which they did not control. And they added that the analysis says nothing about the actual quality of any of the marriages.
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