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A drop in divorces among military women helped push the military’s overall rate of failed marriages down over the fiscal year just ended.
About 7.2 percent of military women reported a divorce in fiscal 2013, which ended Sept. 30, according to newly released Defense Department data. That’s down significantly from a high of 8 percent reported in 2011.
The overall divorce rate among men and women ticked downward to 3.4 percent, one notch below last year’s 3.5 percent. That means for every 100 troops who were married at the start of the fiscal year, about three or four notified DoD about a divorce and officially changed their status for purposes of military benefits.
The divorce rate among enlisted troops, 3.8 percent, was far higher than for officers, 1.9 percent.
Among service branches, the highest divorce rate was seen among Air Force enlisted members, at 4.3 percent.
The decline in divorce rates for both men and women may reflect the slowing operational tempo in recent years, with the mission in Iraq concluded and a drawdown in Afghanistan well underway.
A recent study by the Rand Corp. think tank found a direct correlation between cumulative time spent on deployment and the likelihood of a military marriage failing. One author of that study, Sebastian Negrusa, said deployments now are both less frequent for many families and may be less stressful than those at the height of the Iraq war.
He also suggested that military family programs have improved significantly in recent years after the divorce rate ticked steadily upward several years ago.
Nagrusa also noted that couples who married after 2001 likely had a more realistic expectation of the military lifestyle during war. The Rand study found that families who married before 2001 were more strained by the swift deployment and operational tempo that followed.
By now, most of those families have either left the military or already divorced, he said.
The relative decline in divorce among women is not surprising because their rate rose disproportionally several years ago.
“We found that the effect of deployments on a family is much stronger when the women is the service member,” he said, but the data do not yet explain why that is, he said.
How the military divorce rates compares with that of civilians also is problematic because the civilian world does not track data like DoD and the military population is demographically very different than the public at large.