Congressional Briefing - October 15, 2007

Have Military Divorce Rates Increased Since 9/11?

A soldier with his wife, photo courtesy U.S. Army


Benjamin R. Karney


Monday, October 15, 2007


1:00 P.M. - 2:00 P.M.


2212 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C.

About the Program

One widely held fear is that extended combat deployments expose military marriages to an increased risk of divorce. In the RAND monograph “Families Under Stress,” RAND Adjunct Behavioral Scientist Benjamin Karney examined this question—and found some counterintuitive and surprising results. Karney analyzed marital status data in military personnel records from 1996-2005, with a specific focus on time spent deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ongoing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have pushed the demands on military service members to their highest level in several decades. Deployments have been longer and more frequent, and casualty rates are higher than at any other time since Vietnam. This has raised concerns about the effects of this demanding tempo of operations on service members and their families.

Karney's briefing will discuss the study's findings, and will specifically address the following questions:

  • Is the so-called “stress hypothesis” true—do military divorce rates rise when demands on service members increase?
  • Are the marriages of female or male service members at greater risk during times of increased demand?
  • Do the marriages of enlisted service members or officers face greater risk?
  • Which service's members' marriages faced the highest risk of dissolution upon their return from extended deployments?

About the Speaker

Benjamin Karney

Benjamin Karney (Ph.D., Social Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles) is an Associate Professor of Social Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an adjunct behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation. He is an expert on interpersonal relationships, especially marriage, and has done extensive research on how relationship processes and interactions are constrained or enhanced by the contexts in which they take place. He has twice been the recipient of the National Council on Family Relation's Reuben Hill Research and Theory Award for outstanding contributions to family science.

Families Under Stress

An Assessment of Data, Theory, and Research on Marriage and Divorce in the Military

Families Under Stress

By: Benjamin R. Karney, John S. Crown

Recent demands on the military have raised concerns about the impact of extended deployments on military marriages. To evaluate this impact, the authors draw on marital status data in service personnel records to estimate trends in marriage and marital dissolution between 1996 and 2005 and the specific effects of time deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq on subsequent risk of ending a marriage. The results generally run counter to expectations. Although rates of marital dissolution have increased since 2001 for most services and components, they had declined in the five years prior to 2001. As a result, marital dissolution rates across the services and components are currently similar to those observed in 1996, when the demands on the military were measurably lower. In most cases, service members who were deployed had a lower risk of subsequently ending their marriages than service members who did not deploy or deployed fewer days.

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Further Inquiries

For further information about this event, contact the Office of Congressional Relations at or call (703) 413-1100 x5395.