Journal Issue: Military Children and Families Volume 23 Number 2 Fall 2013
Since the advent of the all-volunteer force in the 1970s, marriage, parenthood, and family life have become commonplace in the U.S. military among enlisted personnel and officers alike, and military spouses and children now outnumber service members by a ratio of 1.4 to 1. Reviewing data from the government and from academic and nonacademic research, Molly Clever and David R. Segal find several trends that distinguish today's military families. Compared with civilians, for example, service members marry younger and start families earlier. Because of the requirements of their jobs, they move much more frequently than civilians do, and they are often separated from their families for months at a time. And despite steady increases since the 1970s in the percentage of women who serve, the armed forces are still overwhelmingly male, meaning that the majority of military parents are fathers.
Despite these distinguishing trends, Clever and Segal's chief finding is that military families cannot be neatly pigeonholed. Instead, they are a strikingly diverse population with diverse needs. Within the military, demographic groups differ in important ways, and the service branches differ from one another as well. Military families themselves come in many forms, including not only the categories familiar from civilian life—two-parent, single-parent, and so on—but also, unique to the military, dual-service families in which both parents are service members. Moreover, military families' needs change over time as they move through personal and military transitions. Thus the best policies and programs to help military families and children are flexible and adaptable rather than rigidly structured.