Women in the U.S. Military: Growing Share, Distinctive Profile

Dec 22, 2011

The women who serve in today’s military differ from the men who serve in a number of ways. Compared with their male counterparts, a greater share of military women are black and a smaller share are married. Also, women veterans of the post-9/11 era are less likely than men to have served in combat and more likely to be critical of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other ways, however, military women are not different from military men: they are just as likely to be officers; they joined the armed services for similar reasons; and post-9/11 veterans of both sexes have experienced a similar mix of struggles and rewards upon returning to civilian life.

Since 1973, when the United States military ended conscription and established an all-volunteer force, the number of women serving on active duty has risen dramatically. The share of women among the enlisted ranks has increased seven-fold, from 2% to 14%, and the share among commissioned officers has quadrupled, from 4% to 16%.

Department of Defense policy prohibits the assignment of women to any “unit below brigade level whose primary mission is direct ground combat.” While this policy excludes women from being assigned to infantry, special operations commandos and some other roles, female members of the armed forces may still find themselves in situations that require combat action, such as defending their units if they come under attack.

Read the full report, Women in the U.S. Military: Growing Share, Distinctive Profile, on the Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Web site.

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