COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Relocating military families every two or three years results in larger families and therefore higher military dependency costs, according to a recent study.
In a survey of military husbands and civilian wives, scientists found that the more moves a military family makes, the lower the wife's wages become and the likelier she is to have more children.
"Every two or three years, the military wife's career is disrupted. She starts in a job, earns a couple of years of job tenure and then has to start all over again, which has a penalty in terms of a lower salary," said Donald Haurin, co-author of the study and professor of economics and finance at Ohio State University.
"The lower salary, in effect, lowers the cost of having a child. It makes it less expensive to stay home and care for the child. She gives up less."
The typical military wife will relocate six or seven times during her husband's 20-year military career, Haurin said. Each move costs the government about $3,000.
Haurin conducted the study with H. Leroy Gill from the Air Force Institute of Technology in Dayton, Ohio, and Jeff Phillips from Clark-Atlanta University. The group's work was published recently in the journal Social Science Quarterly.
For their study, Haurin and his colleagues examined the survey responses of about 1,500 Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine couples in their first marriage who were wed not more than a year before the husband's entry into active duty. They measured the influence of age, education, race, job tenure, time spent overseas and number of moves on the wife's wages. They then determined how age, education, race, number of moves and the wife's and husband's wages affected completed family size.
The researchers found that each "permanent-change-of-station" move reduces a military wife's wages by about 2.8 percent.
"When the number of moves increases from four to 10, the cost is $1,000 per year in lower salary for every year of a military wife's working lifetime," Haurin said. "That's a fairly significant amount of money."
In addition, the researchers found that the more times a military family moves, the larger their family becomes.
"As the number of moves increases from zero to 10, the average number of children in the family increases from 1.8 to 2.2," Haurin said. "That may look like a small effect, but it's a pretty big number when you consider all the families in the military."
These findings could save the military millions of dollars in dependency costs, if they result in new policies, Haurin said.
"If military families moved less often, they would likely have fewer children. With fewer military dependents, costs would be lower. That's something the military hasn't been considering."
Requiring fewer moves might encourage military families to act more like other families, which are delaying childbearing until later in life, Haurin said. That, too, could result in cost savings.
"If their lives and career weren't continuously disrupted, some military couples might delay having children until after the husband has left the military."
Reducing the number of moves could also improve retention of highly trained personnel -- currently a high priority in the armed forces, Haurin said. Higher retention rates would mean less money spent on recruiting and training. It would also mean better, more experienced technical and fighting forces.
"Military families make the decision to stay or leave based on what is economically best for the household as a whole," Haurin said. "If you allow households to stay put for significant amounts of time, there will be less career disruption for the military wives, less loss of income, higher family income and therefore higher retention rates among military men. Reducing the number of moves is a simple way to improve retention that the military might not even be aware of."
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Contact: Donald Haurin, (614) 282-8448
Written by Kelly Kershner, (614) 292-8308