Military Divorce Rates = Good News?

Marine couple hugging

Newly released DoD statistics show that the overall military divorce rate leveled off in 2010 after a consistent increase over the previous five years, my story on reported last week.

The folks at the Pentagon say that the rate didn’t uptick like it has in the past because all those family support programs we’ve been talking about are working.

Of course, not everyone agrees with that statement, including an expert in military divorce rates and the people of the organization Blue Star Families. Even Maj. Gen. Douglas Carver, Army chief of chaplains, told us in a recent interview that he doesn’t think the Army’s most widely used marriage support program, Strong Bonds, is meeting more than 10 percent of the service’s needs.

The rate has risen from 2.6 percent to 3.6 percent since 2001 but stayed at 3.6 percent between fiscal 2009 and 2010.

There are also alternate theories as to why the overall divorce rate didn’t change last year. A recent report said that overall civilian divorce rates are down thanks to the bad economy. While Benjamin Karney, a military divorce researcher with the RAND Corporation, warns us that analogies between civilian and military divorce rates can be highly inaccurate since they are two very different populations, there could be something there.

Read the divorce story here and tell us what you think — is this news a sign that the military really is doing enough to help military marriages? Could the bad economy be at play, or is it simply a fluke?

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of’s spouse and family blog A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • Shawn

    Interesting…hopefully there’s a lasting trend where we need a lasting trend. Good to read your input on this blog Amy and hope you’re not missing JBLM too much.

  • Amy

    Who wouldn’t miss JBLM?? Thanks for the read Shawn.

  • Andi

    I think I’ll turn my comment into a blog post because there’s so much to discuss, including many variables not related to the subject matter of your post. I agree with Benjamin Karney when he cautions against comparing civilian stats to military stats. It’s a little off topic from your post, but I think the cultures are quite different and there are many factors to consider when looking at issues within the military community. Whether it be divorce, mental health issues or a host of other things, the environment in which we live is tough to compare to a civilian environment.

    I’d be interested to know how MG Carver arrived at his statistic. How do we know what the true need is, and do we have data that tells us why we’re not reaching people in need? For instance, are people refusing to seek help or participate in programs? If so, what’s the percentage. Are there not enough resources to help meet the need? Is it a combination of both, or other factors?

    For everyone’s sake, I hope the divorce rate continues to decline.

    Look forward to more of your research.

  • Amy

    I’m not 100 percent on this, but I think the stastic is based on the number of Strong Bonds retreats they hold compared to the number of married soldiers. I’ve done a little math using that data (I know, me? MATH!?) and that’s about the number I got, too.

  • Andi

    Nah, me doing math? Now THAT would be scary….

    So, if that’s the case, I am wondering if they’re defining “need” correctly. I haven’t attended Strong Bonds, so I can’t speak to whether it’s beneficial or not, although I expect everyone’s mileage may vary. As fantastic as it may be, I don’t think the Army should assume every couple “needs” this retreat, or any other program. I’ve been rather frustrated with this type of thinking in many areas because I believe faulty assumptions and blanket fixes lead to money and resources being wasted.

    If we ask military spouses how many of them are unemployed, we get a number. Then we may say that we need to improve that number because it’s too high, especially when compared to the civilian number (groan). But we may not ask the sample if they actually want to seek employment. And if so, what type (part-time, full-time, etc.) I’m just using this as an example to say that I think often we’re not targeting the true need and are reaching for a blanket solution, which, in my opinion, is not the best approach.

    It sounds alarming when someone suggests that 90% of a need isn’t being met, when in fact there may be more behind that number than meets the eye. I just don’t think, in general, that we do enough drilling down to find variables which best identify and address problems, and better allocate resources. And make no mistake, I firmly believe there are serious issues facing military families. Without a doubt. Just wondering if the approach and solutions could be better refined.

  • Love My Tanker

    Andi you are right on within both of your comments as far as I am concerned. Comparing civilian stats to military stats has always bothered me and still does. There are simply too many factors in military life that do not compare/equate to the majority of the civilian world.

    I would be very interested to know if the Strong Bonds program actually does factor into these stats and if so, it is really the number of retreats offered or is it the attendance number based upon number of married Soldiers at a given installation or a combo?

    Many retreats have been offered at our installation. I have asked many spouses why they attend or not and if they did attend, was it beneficial?

    The answers vary of course, but they ladies that attended told me that they felt the program was helpful, worthwhile and they appreciated the opportunity. The ladies that did not attend told me that they either just did not feel the need to attend such an event, they did not feel comfortable attending an event run by Chaplains or they did not feel comfortable leaving their children in the care of others.

    I am sure there are more reasons out there for attending or not, but those are the things that were shared with me.

    Interesting topic!!!!

  • Carlos

    Without the civilian data to provide context these numbers are almost meaningless.