Divorce in the nation’s military was no higher after four years of war than it was in peacetime a decade earlier, despite the stress of long and repeated tours of duty.
A yearlong study by Rand Corp. says divorces rose from 2.5 percent of military marriages in 2001 to 3 percent in 2005. But that is still short of a previous Pentagon theory that marriage breakups had been soaring due to the strain of fighting the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, lead researcher Benjamin Karney said Thursday.
He cautioned that the review of service records could not foresee whether more divorces will occur in years after troops leave the service.
And he also said the yearlong study on "Families Under Stress" did not look at other possible consequences, either current or future, such as increases in alcoholism or the toll on orphaned or emotionally stressed children of troops.
"The future is uncertain. The full impact of these conflicts on military families may not be known for years," Karney said.
"But in the short term, we can say that we are not seeing what everyone thought we were going to see," on the subject of divorces, he said.
The study came out a day after the Pentagon said it was extending the tours of all active duty Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan – about 100,000 troops – to 15 months from the current one year. That was the latest in a series of extended deployments and repeated call-ups of reserve units that have strained the Army and its troops over more than five years of warfare.
Defense Department officials in 2005 had announced a huge jump in the divorce rate, saying cases doubled from 5,658 to 10,477 between 2001 and 2004 among active-duty Army officers and enlisted personnel.
Some officials surmised it was partly due to stresses of deployments and the department asked Rand to study it.
Rand’s National Defense Research Institute – a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Pentagon – found in the new study that after declining from 1996 to 2000, divorces rose gradually in the following years. Divorce, separation and annulments across all branches of service rose to 3 percent of military marriages in 2005 – the same as in 1996 when Soldiers did not routinely face the battlefield deployments that are common today, Rand said in a statement.
There’s no comparable system for tracking the national or civilian divorce rate, though the Centers for Disease Control said in 2005 that 43 percent of all first marriages end in divorce within 10 years.
"Everyone is saying that they are very, very stressed, but the genuine stress isn’t necessarily leading to elevations in divorce," Karney said.
The study analyzed personnel records for some 6 million men and women who served in the military the five years before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on American soil and the five years after. Researchers also looked separately at just those who had deployed, as well as previous studies on military marriages, finding that troops who had been deployed longer had a lower risk of divorce.
That’s very unexpected, Karney said, adding that he couldn’t explain it.
Many people are saying no to military careers because of the unpopular war in Iraq and fears they’ll be killed or injured when sent overseas.
"People are afraid of that, but they’re also aware that there are benefits" not available to civilians, Karney said.
That includes extra pay, child care, health care, housing subsidies "and support from other military families dealing with the exact same stresses," Karney said.
Many also like the job.
"It may simply be that deployment, for all of its negative aspects, has positive aspects as well," the study said, noting that troops have told focus groups that they find deployments "meaningful and fulfilling" as well as important to the nation.
Officials also question the earlier statistics and say the extremely high and unexplainable rise posted in divorce among active-duty Army officers in 2004 may have been a mistake and skewed the overall average.
Researchers also said:
-Women in every military branch are more than twice as likely to end their marriages as their men. Researchers suggested existing programs provide too little support for their families.
-Enlisted service members are more likely to end their marriages than officers, probably because they tend to be younger.
-Marriage rates and divorce rates in the military have followed a similar pattern over the last decade, with more service members getting married in recent years.
-The findings are similar to those covering previous conflicts. Studies of those who served in Vietnam found no link between deployment and divorce. A study of the 1991 Persian Gulf war found that women who served were significantly more likely to divorce than men.