Cover: A New Look at Gender and Minority Differences in Officer Career Progression in the Military

A New Look at Gender and Minority Differences in Officer Career Progression in the Military

Published May 24, 2012

by Beth J. Asch, Trey Miller, Alessandro Malchiodi


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Research Questions

  1. What race/ethnicity and gender differences exist in officers' attainment of successive promotion and retention milestones as they progress through their careers?
  2. Are the findings regarding race/ethnicity and gender differences in promotion and retention different from the findings from RAND's research on this topic in the late 1990s, and if so, how?
  3. What differences in career progression exist among female officers in partially closed positions versus open ones?

Although military accessions of women and minorities have increased over time, the proportions of these groups in the senior officer corps remain relatively low. RAND research conducted in the late 1990s found that, on net, white and Hispanic women entering the officer ranks were less likely to achieve the field grade level (O4) than were white men, while black women had the same likelihood of achieving O4 as white men, and black men had a greater likelihood. This volume updates the earlier RAND study by tracking the promotion and retention of personnel who entered the officer ranks between 1971 and 2002 through the rank of O6, using data from January 1988 through September 2010. The newer data enables the researchers to investigate differences later in the career and to consider differences for Hispanic officers and other minorities. The authors discuss their findings in relation to those of the earlier study.

This updated study also examines the career progression of women serving in military occupations that are partially closed to them — that is, occupations that are deemed open to women but that have some positions for which assignment of women is restricted. The authors find no statistically significant difference between the career progression of women in partially closed versus open occupations, relative to the differences among men serving in the same occupations.

Key Findings

Significant Gender- and Race/Ethnicity-Based Differences Exist in Rates of Promotion and Retention Among Officers

  • Among male officers, minorities are generally less likely than white males to be promoted. But retention rates for minority male officers, given promotion to a specified level, are somewhat greater than for white males.
  • These results are consistent with earlier RAND research that found that black males were less likely to be promoted but more likely to be retained if promoted.
  • Female officers have lower rates of promotion and retention than male officers, with the exception of black women, who have about the same rates of promotion and retention as men in their early careers but lower rates at later career milestones.
  • The results for female officers in the early career are consistent with the earlier RAND study. However, the differences in the likelihood of achieving later career milestones are more dramatic, for both white and minority women, than in the earlier study.

The Study Found No Statistically Significant Difference Between the Career Progression of Women in Partially Closed Versus Open Occupations, Relative to Men Serving in the Same Occupations

  • Although most of them are not statistically significant, there are some differences in rates of promotion and retention between women serving in open occupations and those partially closed to them; this could be due to differences in the nature of the occupations.
  • The differences in career progression between women serving in open occupations and those partially closed to them are not statistically different from the differences for men serving in the same occupations.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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