Veteran Status, Race-Ethnicity, and Marriage Among Fragile Families


“We used data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 2,679) to examine the impact of men’s past military service on the likelihood that a couple will marry within 5 years of a nonmarital birth. Logistic regression analyses showed that men’s past military service increased marriage odds by 54% for couples with Black fathers even after controlling for potential mediators. But veteran status had no effect on couples with White or Hispanic fathers. As a result, the large Black-White gap in post-birth marriage evident among couples with civilian fathers did not exist among couples with veteran fathers. Our findings bolster other evidence that military service exerts lasting and unique pro-marriage effects on Blacks.”


For Practice

Previous research on “retreat from marriage” has paid special attention to Black Americans, for this population has the greatest percentage of retreat from marriage within urban, low-income and minority populations. However, this study’s major finding suggests that past military service could increase the marriage possibility of Black Americans by providing them with equal opportunity, erasing discrimination, and enhancing their economic gains. This veteran effect is not evident for couples with White and Hispanic fathers. Therefore, the authors conclude that the ethnic gap in post-birth marriage has been eliminated among couples with Black military fathers compared to couples with White civilian fathers. Military as a highly regulated organization encourages marriage and childbearing, particularly for Black Americans. Several possible explanations related to this conclusion are provided by the author: First, Black Americans can gain greater lasting benefits from military services compared to other ethnic groups; their experience of social-economic discrimination in comparison to other ethnic groups is substantially decreased after they enter the military. In other words, their social-economic status has been improved to a large extent compared to other ethnic groups. Second, veteran status/military experience often matters more to Blacks because military service provides a more normative orientation towards marriage and family life compared to their civilian environment. If this study is robust, one practical implication of this finding may be that for those disadvantaged Black Americans, seeking of institutional help (e.g. enlistment in military) might be a turning point in their lives. Also, findings suggest that Blacks share similar desire to marry compared to other ethnic populations, but have weaker economic self-sufficiency. Therefore, it is crucial for their community members to realize this problem and provide necessary understanding and support.

For Policy

The impact of men’s military service experience on the odds of getting married for Blacks has important policy implications for policy makers who are concerned about “retreat from marriage.” Policy makers should consider the association between socioeconomic status and men’s marriageability. Based on the discussion in this study, it is evident that Black Americans more likely come from a disadvantaged situation than other ethnic groups surveyed, so that they don’t meet their expected socioeconomic requirement to get married. Therefore, ameliorating the socioeconomic condition of the disadvantaged should be considered as an important policy goal to stabilize and advocate marriage among this population. Also, cultural consideration of the military as a highly regulated institution has been proven effective in reducing the discrimination, advancing economic opportunities, and providing normative support for marriage. As a result, military enlistment policy could be designed to be more favorable to disadvantaged groups who typically lack economic opportunities due to discrimination. Further, providing marriage and familial counseling services to veterans should be also taken into account to promote marriage in the United States.

For Future Research

This research contributes to a variety of research topics including retreat from marriage, marriage among fragile families, and military service and marriage; however, findings are subject to several limitations which require future research endeavor. First, future researcher could seek for more representative samples since the number of White veterans in this study sample is small, which might have impacted the statistical significance. In addition, several variables could be included in the future research, such as military service period, age at enlistment, duration of service, combat exposure, rank, training experiences, reserve participation, and benefit usage after existing active duty. Also, this study only focuses on the urban population. Including rural and suburban samples would expand population statistics. Moreover, it is crucial to investigate reasons why military service’s affects on marriage only impacts African Americans, not Whites and Hispanics. Research that explicitly distinguishes between the material benefits of military service and the perceived marriageability of Black men is necessary to clarify the relationship between military service and marriage. Finally, future research should also include women servicemembers, since military service effects women’s marriage propensities as well.

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