The U.S. military divorce rate continued its slow but steady downward trend in 2015, marking the sixth year running that it has declined and the lowest point in a decade, according to statistics released this week by the Department of Defense.
The divorce rate among both officers and enlisted troops was an even 3% in 2015, a 0.10% drop from the previous year. The figure is significantly down from a high of 3.7% in 2011, but still up from 2.6% in 2001 before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The downward trend may indicate military families are now experiencing less stress than they have in the past, says Benjamin Karney, a researcher with the RAND Corp. who has studied military divorce.
"What's notable is that the military is emerging from a period that was relatively more stressful on families, and seems to have entered into a period that is relatively less stressful on families," he said. "We don't know what to attribute that to, but we do know that there has been less deployment."
The divorce rate last year declined among all male troops, both officer and enlisted, and among most female troops. It marked a slight uptick among female Marines.
The largest decrease occurred among enlisted female sailors. In 2014, 1,115 female enlisted sailors, or 7.5% of that group, divorced. The next year, the rate dropped to 6.5%.
That change reflects a continued downward trend among all female sailors, and could indicate that policies that impact women, such as a focus on ending sexual assaults or a focus on better family life, are working, Karney said.
"A lot of times, it's policy changes that very few people even know about that can really affect this," he said.
The civilian divorce rate stands at about 3.2% as of 2014, according to the most recent data. Military and civilian divorce rates cannot be accurately compared because of differences in tracking methodology.
The military divorce rate is based on personnel data used to distribute benefits, while the civilian rate is calculated on a per-1,000 person basis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC's calculation, however, only accounts for 45 states and the District of Columbia because several states, including California, do not track or report their rates.
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