Military: Women Soldiers’ Divorce Rate Twice as High as Men, Military Says

Women soldiers in the United States military are more than twice as likely to become divorced as their male counterparts, according to figures released by the Department of Defense. And no one is exactly certain why.

Pentagon figures on divorce in the military, compiled in 2006 by the DOD, shows that 7 percent of women in the service and 2.7 percent of men had their marriages wind up on the rocks.”I don’t have an answer why more women get divorces than men in the military. I only have numbers,” said Lt. Col.Les Melnyk, a military spokesman.

Benjamen Karney, lead researcher for the Rand Corp., which studied divorce in the military from 1996 through 2005, said there haven’t been any studies on the military divorce rate for women.”It wasn’t until my report came out in 2007 about divorce in the military that we learned that divorce in the military was substantially higher among females than males.This has been true for more than the last decade even when there was no war going on.”

Karney said there is speculation, however. “One thought is that support services available for military families are geared for supporting civilian wives of male servicemen,” he said. “Another possibility is that women who are service members are different than men in the military in important ways. It has been said that the military recruits the most traditional men in our society. But the military recruits the least traditional females in our society. They are not the women who are most invested in the general role assigned to women. A third possibility is that it may be more stressful to be a civilian husband of a military wife than it is to be a civilian wife of a military husband. We don’t know the answers. But we recommend there needs to be more research done on women in the military.”

Since 2000 and possibly further back, divorce figures for military personnel have changed little despite the current conflict in Iraq, according to MeInyk. The highest divorce rate was among Navy personnel in 2006. “That service had a divorce rate among its married personnel of 3.4 percent,” the colonel said. “The Army’s divorce rate was 3.2 percent that year, the same as the average for all branches of the military. The Marine Corps chalked up a rate of 3.3 percent the same rate as the Air Force”, Melnyk said.

The number of divorces in the military is comparable to the divorce rate in the civilian sector of the U.S. population. According to Karen Hunt, a spokesperson for the U.S. Center for Disease Control, 3.6 percent of the population in the U.S. got divorced in 2005, the latest figures available. That same year 7.5 percent of the country’s total population got married.It’s been estimated by the federal government that people getting married today have a 50-50 chance of staying hitched.

The military’s figure for divorce in the service for women soldiers of 7 percent amounts to almost twice the comparable figure of the married civilian population in the U.S. who are divorced. Contrary to popular belief, deployment of soldiers to the war zone for months at a time has not contributed to more divorces. “We found no spike in marital breakups among members of the military including those that deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Military families certainly face high levels of stress, but thus far it has not resulted in similarly high rates of divorce,” Karney said.

A 2006 chart of divorce in the military produced by the DOD outlines the problem this way: The breakdown for that year for all branches of the service looks like this:

  • A total of3.3percent off all marriages ended in divorce among Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy personnel. A further breakdown shows 3.6 percent of the enlisted men were divorced and 1.9 percent of the male officers got divorces. The figures were considerably higher for women in the service. The stats show 7.8 percent of the married enlisted women got divorces in 2006 and 4.0 percent of the female officers.
  • By service branches the Navy sustained the greatest number of divorces in 2006 with a total of 3.4 percent. Enlisted Naval personnel accounted for 3.7 percent of the divorces and officers for 1.7, exactly half as many. Enlisted women in the Navy chalked up 7.6 percent of the divorces while their officer counterparts had 4.6 percent. Their combined total was 6.9 percent.Navy men had less than half the divorce rate with enlisted men accounting for 3.2 percent and male officers adding another 1.8 percent, for a total of 2.9 percent.
  • The Air Force was second highest when it came to divorces, with a total of 3.3 percent for all personnel. Of that number 3.8 percent were enlisted and 1.5 officers. To break the numbers down further, Air Force enlisted men were getting divorced at a rate of 3.1 percent in 2006 as compared with officers whose divorce rate was 1.2 percent. The total for men in the Air Force was 2.6 percent.Enlisted women in the Air Force divorced at a rate of 7.2 percent while their female officers had a 3.2 percent rate. The total for women in the Air force was 6.4 percent.
  • The Army was third in line with a total divorce rate of 3.2 percent. Enlisted men accounted for 3.6 percent while officers got unhitched at a rate of 2.1 percent. The combined divorce rate for men in the Army was 3.2 percent.The breakdown between men and women in the Army reads like this: 2.9 percent of the enlisted men got divorces in 2006 while the rate for officers was 1.7 percent. Their combined total was 2.6.Women soldiers on the other hand had a divorce rate among enlisted women of 8.7, while the female officers were falling out of wedlock at a rate of 4.7. Total for women in the Army who got divorced was 7.9 percent.
  • Surprisingly the Marine Corps ranked lowest on the list of divorces among its officers and enlisted men and women. Its combined rate of divorce for the year was 3.1 percent. Marine enlisted personnel accounted for 3.4 percent of the rate while officers had a 1.5 percent average. The total for servicemen and women in the Marine Corps who got divorced in 2006 was 2.9 percent.Like the other branches of the service, female Marines had higher divorce rates. Enlisted female personnel accounted for 7.6 percent divorce rate while their officers got divorced at a rate of .4.2 percent. The total for the women in the Corps who were divorced was 7.2 percent.

The researchers found that married military personnel with loved ones in the war zone was stressful. However, these families compensate with assistance from programs offered by the various services that help them cope with their environment. According to a DOD Web site, in 2007 the Army put $100 million into family support programs that expanded childrens’ programs. In addition the Army plans to spend $1.4 billion improving the quality of life for military families.

There are other programs especially designed for military couples and their families who serve in the Navy and the Marines. Looking at the big picture, defense planners concluded that the divorce rate in the military has changed little in a decade or more. Some credit is do, they feel, to their efforts to provide the six million service men and women in the U.S. military with extra support on the home front.

FOR MORE INFORMATION — This is a site that explains how a military divorce works. is the American Bar Association’s site on military divorce.— Thisis the American Retirees Association’s site on military divorce and frequently asked questions.

About the authorDon Moore is a veteran newspaper editor and reporter who spent more than 40 years working at newspapers around Florida. He recently retired from the Port Charlotte, Fla., Sun-Herald. He can be reached at