How Military Marriage Screws Up Your Career

(Photo: U.S. Army/Sgt. Maricris McLane)
(Photo: U.S. Army/Sgt. Maricris McLane)

Every month I get letters from military significant others, brides and the occasional boyfriend about military spouse employment.

They are terrified of turning into hausfraus -- especially the guys.

I have dreams!

I've been working on my resume!

My Marine is going to request San Diego!

So the military won't be a problem, will it???

This, I think, is why I dream of Xanax.

But the first rule of military spouse life is that self-medicating never, ever works.

That only postpones our ability to look squarely at the facts, sob, then make a plan. Here are the facts every career-minded Milso or military spouse needs to know as backed up by social science researchers who specialize in military families:

Spouse employment IS one of the top areas of dissatisfaction for military spouses. In the military, spouse employment has become the symbol for marital stresses that come from financial problems, dissatisfaction with affordable off-post housing, and difficulties due to frequent relocations that are part of military life. That is NOT why you see spouse employment in the news.

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Hear me roar. As the rate of spouse employment has increased, so has the level of spouse influence on retention and retirement decisions. Spouses are now the No. 1 influencer on their service member. THAT is why you see spouse employment in the news.

Military spouses are more likely to have college credits than civilians. According to Department of Defense figures, more than half of all military spouses have some college credits. Twenty-one percent of military spouses have four-year bachelor degrees. An additional eight percent have graduate degrees. This is not an uneducated, unemployable population.

Spouses might need to work. Paying bills is the most frequently cited reason for spouses to work. Studies show that up to two-thirds of spouses of service members in paygrades E-5 and below had financial difficulties and wanted and needed to work. Depending on your debt level and current expenses, needing to work strictly for the money is a factor in every paygrade.

Spouses do feel a negative effect on their career due to the military. In a large Rand study, two-thirds of spouses interviewed felt that the military had a negative effect on career. Frequent moves, absence of the service member, cost of child care vs. wages, and employer bias were the most frequently cited reasons for this problem.

This isn't imaginary. Military spouses suffer a demonstrable difference in career attainment from their civilian counterparts. When compared with civilian wives matched by age, education, race and geographic location, military wives are less likely to work in a given year, work fewer weeks per year, and are less likely to work full-time. Military wives also earn lower wages than matched civilian wives, whether salaried or hourly employees.

Junior spouses don't feel the problem -- as much. At first, junior spouses don't have a problem with spouse employment. They are more likely to be looking for entry-level work. They are less likely to have children. They are less likely to have moved multiple times.

Senior spouses feel the pain. By the time you get to be a senior officer spouse, three-quarters of all spouses felt the military was a hindrance to their career. The more moves you experience, the higher paying the job, the harder it is to have a career instead of a job.

Feeling depressed yet? Well, don't be. Remember that military spouses do work all over the country. According to 2010 DoD figures, 41% of officer spouses and 43% of enlisted spouses work.

Just like you, they figure it out. They meet these barriers to their employment and they start to massage their bargain and work their plan.

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