Because women constitute a relatively small number of service members, they are sometimes excluded from studies. As the number of women in the military continues to increase, it becomes even more important that they be included in research studies.
Despite the apparent popularity of marriage among military members, nonmarital intimate relationships are likely to become a more prominent feature of the relationships of service members in the future, as they are in the population as a whole, and methods of counting relationships may need to be amended as a result. The general population has been characterized in recent decades by rising tendencies for individuals to delay marriage and to cohabit before marriage (Copen et al., 2012). Delays in and alternatives to marriage might become more evident in the military, especially as policies change in the aftermath of discontinuing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy (McKean et al., 2011). Thus, marital status might become an increasingly inaccurate index of relationship patterns, and useful information about the health of intimate relationships of military members might be overlooked if tabulation methods are not adjusted.
Defining Military Families
Multiple definitions of family are used in the Department of Defense (DOD), each tied to specific regulatory requirements. The most common definition uses eligibility for military identification cards, which are necessary for access to health care, military exchanges, and a variety of supportive services for families. Military identification cards are currently issued to spouses and unmarried children of service members—exceptions and additional categories are defined by children’s ages, student status, or special needs and by whether the marriage ends in divorce or in death of the service member while on active duty. Spouses and unmarried children of reserve-component members are covered while the service member is on active duty for more than 30 consecutive days (DOD, 2012d). Stepchildren may or may not qualify for military identification cards, depending on such factors as age, student status, and the circumstances of the biologic parents.
Single service members are not irrelevant in a chapter focused on the implications of deployment for family life. Single service members might have completed or be in the process of establishing families; for example, they might have cohabiting partners or they might be in close relationships that are precursors to marriage. The population of single service members also includes previously married individuals who might be in the process of establishing a second family. All service members, especially those who do not have spouses or partners, might rely on parents, siblings, or other family members for substantial emotional or tangible support, especially if they encounter hardships, such as illness, wounds, or other major life challenges. However, little research has examined family issues as they relate to single service members.
Demographic Characteristics of Military Families
This section describes the demographic characteristics of families of active-duty forces and selected reserve components. Because data presented here are derived from the DOD’s annual demographic profiles of the military community (DOD, 2011b, 2012a) and represent all service members—not only those who have been deployed—they will not be identical to the data presented in Chapter 3, which include only service members who have been deployed.