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Military Divorce Rate

By Josh Gilliam -

Have you ever heard someone say the divorce rate in the military is upwards of 60%?  Over the years I have heard everything from 30% to 80% thrown around in chapel services and FRG meetings. Truthfully, I have made comments to the same effect during Marriage Retreats!

What do you think the actual rate of divorce is? What if I told you it was around 3%? Yep. That’s right – just 3% of military marriages end in divorce. A massive 206-page study by the Rand Corporation titled Families Under Stress accounted for every marriage in the active armed forces between 1996 and 2005 and reported that the mean rate of divorce is 3%.  This time period is especially appropriate because in encompasses 5 years of peacetime and 5 years of war.

The researchers concluded, “There is no consistent evidence that the normal expected demands of military service lead to higher rates of marital dissolution in military couples” (66). In another place the study said: “Despite the demonstrable stresses associated with military service and deployment and the widespread assumption that these stresses lead to the deterioration of military marriages, our analyses revealed little support” for such a relationship (xxiii). Interestingly, a different study found the same to be true of Vietnam era marriages. The evidence simply does not support our urban legends (fears) that military marriages are destined for failure.

The paper concludes with offering some possible reasons that military marriages are able to thrive despite the stress. One is that the armed services tend to attract persons of integrity and hard work—both valuable qualities for a strong marriage.  Furthermore, in recent years, military leaders have placed a high value on marriage and family, and devoted resources to strengthening them.

I thought it was interesting that the lowest rate of divorce across all populations was Marine Corps Officers. I, for one, am glad I married one! (Don’t be fooled by the dreads; Katie was in the Marine Corps for five years). The graph below shows the Marine Corps stats.

All this to say – I’m encouraged! We do not have to choose between our families and our professions. They may actually complement one another. 

But this is not to say that being married to a serviceman is easy. I have deep respect for the women who knowingly allowed their husbands to join the military over these last 15 years of war. It’s no small thing! But I sense that the same strength that allowed you to join the military will see your marriage through as well. 

I also recognize there are others out there who are in the middle of the struggle, and your strength is failing. As you read this post you are wondering if your marriage will be part of the 3%. It’s real. I do not mean to minimize the difficulty. Military Clan exists is to do our small part in moving the divorce rate down to 2% in the years to come. So keep the faith – and stay tuned.  


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