Of course they aren’t. Besides our own individual experiences and those of peers, superiors, and subordinates, the numbers overwhelmingly agree. 44% of active duty servicemembers have children. Breaking it down by rank shows that the more senior the member, the more likely they are to have children. Over 80% of field grade officers and midgrade to senior enlisted in the Marine Corps have children—and by children, the report only includes those under age 21 or enrolled as a student, explaining slightly lower numbers at the top ranks. The Navy looks similar (from DoD’s 2010 Demographics Report).
This really just tells us that the more senior you are, the more likely you are to have kids. Common sense. So what’s the point here?
As many of us know, military life requires a unique commitment from both the servicemember and the family. Time was, the family norm for society as a whole and the military in particular included a male breadwinner and a wife/mother at home with the kids. Due to the demands of a military career and the military lifestyle, this was a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s simply harder for a spouse to finish an education and find stable, well-paying work if you move every few years. It’s also harder to get child care outside of the home to enable employment if you move often.
However, over the past few decades, America has changed, and so have American families. Women and men are more educated, with women comprising approximately 55% of college graduates each year, and women work outside of the home in ever-increasing numbers. By 2000, only one in five marriages featured a male breadwinner with a wife at home. Even in families with new babies, more than half of the mothers were back at work inside of a year. The vast majority of mothers work outside of the home (from the Hoover Institution’s July 2004 “The Changing American Family” by Herbert Klein).
What does that tell us?
We know the dedication and demands required by a military career, especially in the higher ranks, tougher/more rewarding jobs, and command. To succeed and excel, servicemembers with children need a supportive family: a spouse who can sacrifice to do the majority of the child-rearing, to move when needed, to single-parent when called to.
But families have changed. Military spouses have too: only 45% of officer spouses and 32% of enlisted spouses are unemployed and not looking for work (DoD 2010 Demographics Report). Single parents are increasing among active duty members just as they are in society.
Women are entering the military in greater numbers, and dual-military marriages are more common. The percentage of women in the military is increasing, and will only continue to rise.
And, ironically, women generally hit the most common childbearing years right as they approach the middle ranks, or as their husbands approach those same ranks (and wives have their own careers to maintain).
Fewer stay-at-home-moms + more career-oriented mothers + more educated members/spouses + everybody having kids later + increased demand on fathers despite military obligations + demands of ten years of war on families + no change in policy = more people leaving active duty in the middle ranks due to family obligations
Do we have to do anything to attract these people/families? Of course not. The military could keep on its present course, because there will always be a pool of individuals who fit the traditional mold of the single breadwinner with supportive spouse and kids. But American society and national trends show that this pool will be ever-shrinking. What will this pool look like in another 10 years? 20? Limiting ourselves to a shrinking group of people will severely limit the quality of those who join us and who fill our senior ranks.
There are solutions out there. I’ve mentioned sabbaticals and continue to believe the idea is solid. The current DoD sabbatical program (see the Army Times’ 17 April article for a brief synopsis) has its limits. So far, only the Navy has used it, and it expires in 2015. I like that it limits entrance to the program to 80 members a year, because that might discourage abuse and encourage only those with a real desire to use it. I only found out about such a plan two months ago, which makes me wonder how many others are ignorant of its existence. And I haven’t seen any early assessments of its success. Curious why 2015 is the end-date, too.
What was really interesting, though, was the fifth paragraph in the article, which highlighted that DoD officials were planning to expand the program, which “would give ‘greater flexibility to test and evaluate alternative career retention options in specialties and skills in which monetary incentives alone have not produced required long-term retention results’.”
It’s not about money. You can’t pay most people enough to sacrifice their families, which is how it should be. It’s about attracting and keeping those who want to serve and to continue to serve in some capacity. For the next post, on one hand we have active duty, and on the other we have leaving the service/going on sabbatical. Is there no room for a middle ground? Perhaps there should be.