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Fewer military families recommend joining the service, survey finds

U.S. Army trainees assigned to Foxtrot, 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment run to the company area on the first day of basic combat training on June 12, 2017 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. (Sgt. Philip McTaggart/U.S. Army)
July 15, 2022

A new survey released on Thursday showed fewer military families recommend joining the service, arguing pay and benefits are not enough to justify the difficulties that come with service.

The 2021 Military Family Support Programming Survey conducted by the Military Family Advisory Network found just 62.9 percent of military and veteran families would recommend joining the military – a significant drop from 74.5 percent in 2019.

“When we’re going through this report and seeing some of the findings and the reality that a lot of families are having a hard time making ends meet, it’s not all that startling to see that there will be a decline here,” said Shannon Razsadin, president and executive director of the organization. “But what I was really surprised by was, you know, that it was as big of a decline as it is.”

The survey found the most common reasons families would not recommend military life were: the lifestyle is not family-friendly, service members are not adequately compensated for high-stress work, the leadership is bad, healthcare benefits are not worth the lifestyle difficulties, and frequent moves and deployments.

“It is a difficult job and life, and the ‘benefits’ simply are not worth it. Especially since said benefits just keep dwindling and decreasing in quality the longer we are in,” an active-duty sailor’s spouse said.

Those who would recommend military life said it offers job and financial security, retirement benefits, healthcare and housing, travel and living abroad. They also noted that the work is meaningful and comes with good friendships and camaraderie.

When civilians were asked if they would recommend joining the military, 46.1 percent said they would, while 53.9 said they would not.

“We say internally the military is a family business. And so seeing this drop is, like I said, it is very concerning. And we need to look at how the whole family is supported,” Razsadin said.

The report comes as the military struggles to meet recruitment numbers. An Army spokesman told Defense One that just 23 percent of Americans aged 17 to 24 are eligible to enlist without requiring some kind of waiver. Plus, just nine percent of that demographic are willing to enlist, the lowest amount in 15 years.

“It’s not a good story when we’re looking at the recruitment numbers and we know anecdotally that the future of the all-volunteer force lies in military children,” Razsadin said about the decline in families recommending service. “So if you have military families who are less inclined to recommend service, I mean, that should get everyone’s attention.”

The survey was conducted between October 4 and December 15, 2021, and involved more than 8,600 people from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, two U.S. territories, and 22 countries.