Cover: Diversity in U.S. Military Families

Diversity in U.S. Military Families

An Environmental Scan of the Peer-Reviewed Literature on Race and Ethnic Variation for Select Well-Being Outcomes

Published Jul 1, 2022

by Sarah O. Meadows, Sierra Smucker, Dionne Barnes-Proby, Julia Vidal Verástegui, Rosemary Li, Elliott Brennan

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Research Questions

  1. How are R/E addressed in the literature focused on the well-being of U.S. military service members and their families?
  2. Which variables and measures do researchers use to capture R/E?
  3. What is the quality of this research in terms of design, data, and analysis?

Researchers explore the literature on race and ethnicity (R/E) in relation to U.S. military service member well-being in the areas of mental health, behavioral health, family violence, marital satisfaction, and financial stress to uncover whether past research has focused on R/E differences in outcomes as a driving research question; the variables used to capture R/E; and the quality of research in terms of design, data, and analysis.

The Department of Defense (DoD) has expressed commitment to improving diversity and inclusion in the military. If leaders seek to do this based on existing evidence, they will find that information about how R/E intersects with the well-being of service members and their families is extremely limited. DoD should consider developing a deliberate, strategic, and comprehensive research agenda on R/E diversity in service member and family well-being outcomes. This will help DoD identify where differences exist and where policies and programs can address those gaps.

Key Findings

  • Existing articles lack a focus on R/E in core research questions. While researchers often recognize that R/E could affect the outcome of interest, the most common approach to addressing this impact is to control for the variation associated with R/E instead of specifically exploring it. This leads to fragmented development of knowledge, which makes it difficult for researchers to consolidate and use that knowledge to develop policies and programs.
  • The existing body of research includes a limited variety of analytic methods. Specifically, this work does not include qualitative approaches that could tell us why R/E differences occur. An investment in understanding the why behind R/E variation in outcomes is essential to supporting a diverse group of service members and their families and developing effective evidence-based policies and programs.
  • A substantial number of articles relied on convenience samples to answer research questions, limiting their generalizability to broader service member and family populations. For research designed to address R/E well-being questions, ensuring that quantitative analyses have a broad and representative sample across R/E groups is critical.
  • The existing literature on R/E and well-being lacks attention to the spouses and children of service members. Only a handful of articles included children and spouses of service members and many of those did not separate their findings across these unique groups. This leaves the reader with no appreciation for how R/E might differentially affect children, service members, and spouses.


  • DoD should investigate whether and why service members and their family members with different R/E backgrounds experience different risks for mental and behavioral health outcomes.
  • DoD should investigate whether and why there are R/E differences in the impact of service members' military careers (e.g., permanent change of station moves, deployment) on family members' well-being.
  • DoD should investigate whether military families of different R/E backgrounds need different programs and services.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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