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Study: Bigger housing payouts encourage younger marriages - and divorces

Apr. 21, 2010 - 03:07PM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 21, 2010 - 03:07PM  |  
A new study suggests that while the military needs to be supportive of family life, the Pentagon should not, in essence, encourage single troops to marry with higher rates of pay and benefits for married troops.
A new study suggests that while the military needs to be supportive of family life, the Pentagon should not, in essence, encourage single troops to marry with higher rates of pay and benefits for married troops. (Kemberly Groue / Air Force)
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Higher rates of pay and benefits for married troops encourages service members to wed at a younger age than the general public — and lead to a "significantly greater" divorce rate for those who have served two years or more, two researchers conclude.

In a new study, economist Paul Hogan and social psychologist Rita Seifert suggest that while the military needs to be supportive of family life — more than half of all active-duty troops are married — the Pentagon should not, in essence, encourage single troops to marry.

The authors focused on 23- to 25-year-olds, reasoning that these service members were old enough to have graduated from high school or college, marry, and subsequently divorce.

Previous research, the authors say, "has shown that retention of married service members is influenced by family support and satisfaction with the military."

"However, there does not seem to be evidence that married service members are more productive or of greater value to the military than single service members. The military does not need to encourage single service members to marry. Other employer markets do not differentiate compensation and benefits by marital status."

Current policies may contribute to a divorce rate among service members that has been on the rise over the past decade.

Hogan and Seifert say a revised compensation policy would phase in family benefits, such as better housing, so that married troops receive more benefits the longer they serve.

Then, compensation and benefits could move toward a system that rewards performance rather than dependency status, they say. In this way, they argue, the military would both support families and encourage the best performers to stay in the service.

The authors' conclusion drew a skeptical response from one military personnel expert.

"There's an infinite number of reasons people get married and an infinite number of factors that differentiate military people's lives and circumstances from those of civilians. Attributing causality to any specific one is a very long stretch," said retired Col. Steve Strobridge of the Military Officers Association of America, who once headed the Air Force's compensation branch.

For instance, Strobridge said, more mature people may be drawn to the military, and more mature people might marry earlier. The stress and responsibilities that military life places on relatively younger people might accelerate the maturation process. Or the stresses themselves could drive some to seek stability in their private lives through marriage, he said.

The authors found that those 23- to 25-year-olds who have served at least two years on active duty are significantly more likely to be married, suggesting, based on their analysis of U.S. Census data, that the odds of ever having been married are three times greater if one had served on active duty compared with a similar civilian who had not served.

The same percentage held true for those who were high school graduates and nearly so for those with bachelor's degrees, most of whom are officers.

The authors' analysis of divorce probability suggests that, among those who have married, service members who have had at least two years of active duty are more likely to get divorced.

That finding, they said, "is consistent with the hypothesis that the compensation benefits in the military provide an incentive for earlier marriage than might otherwise be the case and, because of this, that the marriage might be more vulnerable to dissolution."

About the research

Hogan and Seifert, of The Lewin Group — a Falls Church, Va., health care policy research center — conducted their research in part with funding from the Pentagon's 10th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation and based it in large part on analyses of the Census Bureau's 2005 American Community Survey. The findings were published in the April issue of Armed Forces & Society, a peer-reviewed quarterly journal focused on sociological aspects of the military.

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