Cover: The Association Between Base-Area Social and Economic Characteristics and Airmen's Outcomes

The Association Between Base-Area Social and Economic Characteristics and Airmen's Outcomes

Published Feb 3, 2014

by Sarah O. Meadows, Laura L. Miller, Jeremy N. V. Miles


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Research Questions

  1. How much variability is there in the social, economic, and demographic quality of areas surrounding and including Air Force bases?
  2. Is there an association between these base-area characteristics and Airmen's outcomes on health and well-being, military and neighborhood social cohesion, ratings of neighborhood resources, use of on-base resources, satisfaction, and career outcomes?
  3. If there is variability and an association exists, how might the Air Force use base-area factors in programmatic decisionmaking?

To help Air Force Services tailor support for Airmen and their families through analyses of the relevance of neighborhood, or area, characteristics of major Air Force installations located within the United States, researchers applied established social indicators and neighborhood methodology to identify which areas may have greater need for Air Force resources. This document reports the results of that analysis. It examines whether and how base-area characteristics are associated with individual-level Airman outcomes across several different domains. The objective is to help the Air Force identify communities where Airmen and their families may have greater levels of need so that it can adapt programs or resources to counteract stressors related to the base areas and the lack of nonmilitary resources in the area. Using census and personnel data, the authors created a set of area profiles that make up the RAND Base Area Social and Economic Index, or RAND BASE-I, measuring aspects of household composition, employment, income and poverty, housing, social, and transportation of area residents (both military and civilian). These factors are outside of Air Force control; however, Air Force Services may be able to help offset potential negative impacts of community characteristics on Airmen and their families. Using existing Air Force survey data, the authors then assessed whether these base-area characteristics were associated with Airmen's outcomes related to health and well-being, military and neighborhood cohesion, ratings of neighborhood resources, use of on-base resources, satisfaction, and career intentions. The analysis also tested whether Airmen who live off base and commute to work may be more exposed to social and economic conditions in the larger base area than Airmen who primarily live and work on base. The report

Key Findings

Quality Varies Among Air Force Base Areas

  • Scores on the RAND Base Area Social and Economic Index (RAND BASE-I) were quite varied; the gap between the highest-scoring and lowest-scoring areas was large.
  • Geographic clustering among the highest-scoring base areas on the RAND BASE-I was apparent. In general, base areas in the south had lower RAND BASE-I scores, largely due to disadvantages among the economic indicators included in the RAND BASE-I. However, the findings do not necessarily mean that Airmen and their families are themselves in economic distress. The quality-of-life gap across the general population cannot be taken as an indicator of the quality of life of Airmen. These findings do indicate, however, that some Airmen and their families live in areas where community residents are more financially burdened than residents in other base areas and where nonmilitary community resources may be scarcer.

Area Quality Is Associated with Some Outcomes for Airmen

  • At the broadest level of outcomes, RAND BASE-I scores were significantly associated with military and neighborhood social cohesion, ratings of neighborhood resources, use of on-base resources, and satisfaction measures.
  • The RAND BASE-I and career outcomes were significantly associated only among reserve component Airmen. Overall base-area quality was not associated with the limited self-reported health and well-being outcomes available on the two Air Force surveys used.
  • Among active-duty Airmen, higher scores on the RAND BASE-I are associated with perceptions of greater community safety, greater satisfaction with community resources, greater satisfaction with the local base area, greater satisfaction with access to and the quality of health care, higher perceptions of school quality, and higher ratings of neighborhood quality and lower ratings of economic stress.
  • However, higher scores from active-duty Airmen are also associated with lower base social cohesion, lower Airman engagement in the base community, lower likelihood of using on-base recreational services, and spending more on child care.
  • Among reserve component Airmen, higher scores on the RAND BASE-I are associated with higher perceptions of school quality, greater satisfaction with base assignment, and greater satisfaction with the local base area.
  • However, higher scores from reserve component Airmen are also associated with lower Airman engagement in the base community, lower neighborhood social cohesion, using fewer on-base programs and services, being less likely to use on-base recreational services, lower satisfaction with quality of own housing, perceiving less support from employers, reporting lower likelihood of continuation or reenlistment, and reporting lower likelihood staying in the Air Force until retirement.


  • The RAND BASE-I and indices like it provide one piece of data the Air Force can use to make decisions about service programming and the allocation of limited or scarce resources. It should not be used for decisionmaking in isolation but in conjunction with other factors, such as cost, population size, and program and service usage rates.
  • The RAND BASE-I, or a similar index of neighborhood or base-area quality, may also be useful to the Air Force Medical Service, the Community Action Information Board, and the Integrated Delivery System. Base-area data sources, such as the RAND BASE-I, could be used to identify bases where conditions in the surrounding area may lead to increased stress and strain on Airmen and their families.
  • Installation commanders can also use neighborhood or base-area quality data. Commanders whose installations are located in areas where the RAND BASE-I score of the base area is high may suffer from lower base cohesion. This suggests a tension between a highly cohesive base environment and civilian areas around the base with greater resources and neighbors who are doing well financially. The finding suggests that base commanders in those areas that score higher on the RAND BASE-I may need to make extra efforts to foster base cohesion and sense of community among Airmen assigned to their bases, especially those who live off base. Commanders can also use the RAND BASE-I, or similar indices, to take stock of the local community. A specialized index would allow them to focus on issues most relevant to the Airmen and families directly under their command. Such indices may also be helpful in change-of-command situations and provide incoming commanders a quick lay of the land.
  • Finally, military researchers can also use neighborhood and area quality to inform their studies. Some existing and ongoing data sets frequently used by military researchers, both military and civilian, could easily be linked to geographically based data, such as the census. The addition of this type of data can expand the explanatory power of analyses. Ultimately, understanding how and why the social and economic characteristics of geographic areas may affect the health and well-being of service members and their families, their satisfaction with military life, and their retention and career decisions can be an additional consideration in how policymakers and military leadership design and implement policies affecting military members and their families.

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The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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