Military Spouse Survey

An airman greets his wife at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., on May 24 upon returning from a deployment to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility

WASHINGTON – The Defense Department released the results of the 2019 Survey of Active Duty Spouses earlier this month. It is conducted every two years, and the latest report – like its predecessors – will help shape adjustments to future family policies.

“These survey results are important because they help us evaluate policy and program success, address issues and gaps in resources, and identify areas for necessary improvement,” explained William Bushman, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for Personnel and Readiness.

As part of the 2019 survey, more than 65,200 active duty military spouses were invited to participate, and a little over 10,000, or 16.5 percent, opted to take part. Survey topics covered employment, deployment, reintegration and satisfaction with military life. Because the survey was completed in 2019, the effects of COVID-19 did not play a part in the evaluation.

“While many of the 2019 survey results are consistent with past years, (indicating multiple areas) where we are doing well, there are findings that may be of some concern and … need to be watched,” said Dr. Paul Rosenfeld, director of the Center for Retention and Readiness within the Office of People Analytics.

Family finances and personal health were among the positive trends highlighted in the 2019 ADSS, Rosenfeld said. Seventy percent of respondents reported their family financial situation as either “comfortable” or “very comfortable.” This contrasts with only 64 percent reporting the same way in 2012.

“This encouraging finding mirrors results we found on a recent status of forces survey of military members,” Rosenfeld said.

Also in the report, he said, 41 percent of spouses replied that in the past 12 months, their financial condition had improved, and reasons cited included reduction in debt and better financial management.

The majority of spouses who participated in the survey also reported overall satisfaction with their marriage as well as lower levels of marital instability as compared to the average married civilian.

While positive trends appeared throughout the report, there are areas of concern, Rosenfeld confirmed.

“Satisfaction with the military way of life and support for a spouse to stay on active duty both decreased,” he said. “Although the findings still reflect the majority of spouses are satisfied – over half, 56 percent, are satisfied or very satisfied – that is lower than past years.”

In 2017, for instance, that number was at 60 percent.

Around 59 percent of survey respondents indicated they favored their military spouse staying in the service. That number has dropped from a previous peak of 68 percent in 2012. Since 2006, survey respondents most likely to say they prefer their spouse staying in the military are consistently married to higher ranking personnel, both enlisted and officers.

Another area of concern within the survey involves spouse employment, Rosenfeld said. According to the 2019 report, approximately 22 percent of active duty spouses are unemployed, and it’s likely that number has increased as a result of COVID.

“Although the rate has been stable since 2012, it is higher than the civilian rate,” he further explained, adding that the rate of unemployment is higher among those married to junior service members, females, ethnic and racial minorities, spouses under 26 years of age and those with no or some college.

Childcare also is a concern for military families, Rosenfeld continued. Approximately 43 percent of spouses with children under age 13 reported using some form of childcare so that they can go to work. Only about 39 percent, however, used on-base programs.

“Those spouses who do not routinely use on-base child care indicated availability, inconvenient location and affordability as the top reasons they did not do so,” Rosenfeld said.

With the results of the survey now compiled, Bushman said the numbers will be used in coming years to continue to shape policy to improve the lives of service members and their families.

“As we review the results, we can gauge the impact of the changes the department has made since our 2017 survey and determine which policies and programs need to be refined so that we can provide the support necessary for our military families to flourish, stay connected and be mission ready.”

The OPA also conducted a 2019 survey of reserve component military spouses. The results of that assessment are still being processed and will be released when completed.