What is the U.S. military divorce rate?

In 2017, the most recent year where reliable numbers are available, about 3 percent of military marriages ended in divorce. That’s according to statistics Military.com acquired from the Pentagon.

Military man turning his back on his distressed wife

Divorce-rate statistics, though, are complicated, and few are figured the same way; some are merely forecasts, some look for the "refined divorce rate," and the most commonly cited divorce-rate figure—that half of all marriages end in divorce—is likely based on a flawed calculation.

To calculate the military divorce rate, the Pentagon looked at the number of troops who reported their status as "married" via the military personnel system at the beginning of the year, then compared that with the number who reported divorces throughout the year.

A comparable national average comes from a 2015 study by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University that found a divorce rate of 16.9 divorces per 1,000 married women. That’s 1.69 percent, a bit more than half of the Pentagon’s figure. However, the statistics are messy—national numbers include people of all ages, while the Pentagon’s numbers only include current military personnel. Extend that to include retirees, and the military’s divorce rate might change significantly.

Still, for military members, the data doesn’t seem promising. Career website Zippia analyzed U.S. census figures to determine professions with the highest divorce rates for individuals aged 30 or under. Military jobs took 3 out of the top 10 spots. First-line enlisted military supervisors had the highest divorce rate at 30 percent.

The data looks even worse when the occupations are sorted into their respective industries.

"We can see here that at more than a 15 percent divorce rate, those in Military positions are far and away the likeliest to be divorced by the age of 30," Ryan Morris wrote for the site. "Repair and Maintenance positions take second place, with Health and Life Services bringing up third."

Why are military divorce rates so high?

Many of the reasons for high divorce rates seem relatively obvious; high-stress jobs tend to create rifts in relationships.

"Some of the most demanding professions can be hardest on marriage, either because of time spent away, persistent danger or insufficient pay," Mark Hamrick, a senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com, told MarketWatch. "These challenges can certainly pertain to those who serve in the armed forces, [either making or] willing to make the ultimate sacrifice."

One Swedish study showed that deployed military veterans are more likely to divorce and less likely to marry after their deployment as compared with non-deployed military personnel. They often experience post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues that can make relationships difficult, and other issues are likely at play—for instance, military personnel tend to marry younger than civilians.

There is some good news for military families: According to personnel data, divorce rates among active-duty troops have fallen steadily over the past decade.

It’s also important to remember that while statistics are useful for studying trends, they’re not applicable to individual situations. If you’re part of a military marriage or if you’re considering one, the strength of your marriage will come from your commitment to your partner and your willingness to work together—not Pentagon personnel data.