Over 191,000 women serve on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces (Verdugo, 1996), with another 140,000 women serving in the reserves (Herrold, 1996).1 Women constitute 13, 14, and 17 percent of the personnel serving on active duty in the Navy, Army, and Air Force, respectively, but only 5 percent of those serving on active duty in the Marine Corps. In FY1995, women comprised 19, 20, and 24 percent of those enlisting in the Army, Navy, and Air Force, respectively, and 6 percent of those enlisting in the Marine Corps (Verdugo, 1996). Women are better represented among new enlistees than among active-duty forces for two reasons: the percentage of female enlistees has been increasing over the past several years, and women have a higher rate of attrition from the military than men.

The majority of women on active duty are enlisted personnel (84%), as are the majority of men (85%) (Bray, 1996). In each branch, the percentage of total enlisted personnel who are women is nearly identical to the percentage of total officers who are women.

The military population is a young one. An estimated 50 percent of active-duty women are between the ages of 17 and 25, and only 6 percent are over the age of 40.

The ethnic distribution among active-duty women differs from branch to branch and between enlisted personnel and officers. Overall, 40 percent of active-duty women classify themselves as minorities (African American, Hispanic, Asian American-Pacific Islander, Native American, and other). Minority group members comprise 53 percent of Army women (with the number of African American enlisted women exceeding the number of Caucasian enlisted women), 42 percent of Navy and Marine Corps enlisted women, and approximately 32 percent of Air Force enlisted women. (The percentage of minority women among officers is lower than that among enlisted women.) With the lifting of the combat exclusion laws in 1993, most positions in the military are now open to women, and occupational profiles of women have begun to change (Herrold, 1996). Although the majority of women still occupy support, administrative, and health care roles, more and more military women are accepting assignments to physically demanding jobs.

According to data presented by Naomi Verdugo (1996), 50 percent of military women have completed some college, 50 percent are married, and 50 percent are parents.

The military is concerned about maintaining the health and fitness of active-duty women (Bray, 1996; Verdugo, 1996). They are given free medical and dental care with an emphasis on preventive medicine and regular health checkups. In a survey of the four military services, 95 percent of active-duty women reported having had a Pap test in the last 3 years, and 82 percent reported that they received prenatal care in the first trimester of their last pregnancy (Bray, 1996).

However, a substantial proportion of military women make lifestyle choices that put their health at risk. For example, an estimated 30 percent of active-duty women smoke, 70 percent use alcohol regularly, 40 percent do not exercise at least three times a week for 20 minutes or more, 40 percent do not eat two full meals a day at least 5 days a week, and 40 percent do not sleep more than 6 consecutive hours at least 5 days a week (Bray, 1996).


Data presented at this workshop are drawn from a variety of military surveys. A list of these surveys is presented in Table A-1.

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