Cover: Exploring the Association Between Military Base Neighborhood Characteristics and Soldiers' and Airmen's Outcomes

Exploring the Association Between Military Base Neighborhood Characteristics and Soldiers' and Airmen's Outcomes

Published Jan 24, 2013

by Sarah O. Meadows, Laura L. Miller, Jeremy N. V. Miles, Gabriella C. Gonzalez, Brandon T. Dues


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Research Questions

  1. How do military installations and their surrounding neighborhoods compare with one another in sociodemographic and economic indicators?
  2. How are individual health and well-being outcomes associated with military neighborhood profiles?
  3. How can the military improve service member and family health and well-being via installation-level resources or support strategies?

Current extended military engagements in foreign nations have taken their toll on U.S. service members and their families. As a result, the services have made renewed commitments to support the needs of these families of military personnel. Quality-of-life and family programs across the services continue to grow. But no service has applied neighborhood theory and methods to better understand these military issues. Installations, and the communities where they are located, vary in terms of the quality of life they provide inhabitants. Similarly, the families who live in these communities and who are assigned to these installations vary in terms of their needs. A one-size-fits-all approach to base resource allocation and the provision of services may not be the most effective in fostering health and well-being among service members and their families. Thus, the services may want to use this approach as part of their efforts to identify gaps in support to service members and families so that they can make the necessary adjustments and better compensate where communities are lacking. This report explores the applicability of neighborhood theory and social indicators research to understanding the quality of life in and around military bases. It also highlights gaps in neighborhood study methodology that need to be addressed in future research. Finally, it outlines how a more in-depth neighborhood analysis of military installations could be conducted.

Key Findings

Neighborhood Studies Can Lead to Improvements in Quality of Life for Service Members and Their Families

  • A neighborhood assessment of military installations and their environs could contribute to military decisionmaking in such areas as programming and distribution of resources across base support services.
  • A ranking tool of base neighborhoods using data from the U.S. Census Bureau revealed variation in the quality of the areas around installations. However, geographic area of the country, installation size, and installation type were not consistently associated with higher or lower rankings.
  • None of the associations between the military neighborhood ranking index and the outcomes in the Army analysis remained significant after controlling for individual, soldier-level characteristics.
  • The results for the rating of the civilian area as a place to live, neighborhood cohesion, and ratings of safety of an Airman's residence and neighborhood and the civilian area around the base were all positively associated with the military neighborhood ranking index.
  • Neighborhood characteristics are not the only factors that are relevant to consider, but they do complement existing measures and perhaps illuminate gaps not otherwise apparent.


  • With further refinement, use of neighborhood theory and methodology can be useful for installation management charged with allocating resources related to service-member and family well-being.
  • The Army and the Air Force cannot control such factors as unemployment or family poverty rates in the neighborhoods surrounding their installations. They can, however, recognize that community resources in the poorest neighborhoods are likely already taxed and less able to support Soldiers and Airmen living in or near those neighborhoods. In those cases, the importance of the availability of installation resources may be magnified and even necessary to ensure a comparable quality of life for service members and their families across the various base locations.
  • With more fine-grained data, additional associations could emerge with more policy implications for how the services address the needs of service members and their families.

This report results from the RAND Corporation's Investment in People and Ideas program. Support for this program is provided, in part, by donors and by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers.

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