Military members are known for marrying and having kids a fair bit earlier than the average civilian adult.
A study done by Jennifer Lundquist at two separate Army installations in Germany concluded that the average age of marrying was 22 years old. Of the subjects, most were enlisted soldiers and low-to-middle ranking.
In comparison, the average age of marrying for a civilian woman is 27.4 years. For men, it is slightly higher at 29.5 years. That’s an over-five-year difference between civilian and service member marrying ages. So, what factors into the decision to marry in the military?
A1C Brandon Ellis, who married his spouse at 20, gives some insight into the matter.
“A lot of guys in the military have low self esteem,” he says. “This is compounded by the fact that the military heavily incentivizes early marriages.”
The cost of marriage in the military
These “incentives” that the military provides are often financial in nature.
For example, the military will pay for each family member to relocate with the service member in the event of a PCS (Permanent Change of Station), but only when the couple is married.
In addition to this, military personnel already in relationships — but who have yet to make a legal union — might consider doing so just to live with their significant other. Newly-enlisted and lower-ranking service members are required to live in the barracks, sharing their living space with one or more people.
“If you get married, you immediately move out into base housing, or collect housing allowance and live off base,” notes Ellis.
The military also gives certain service members a direct pay increase when they enter a marriage. This is in the form of their COLA, or Cost-of-Living Allowance. The COLA is made to compensate for being stationed in “high-cost” locations, such as Hawaii, Alaska, or other overseas assignments. Military members receive an adjustment to their COLA when they gain a dependent.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty
Lundquist theorizes that the military banks on service members marrying early.
“Marriage is deliberately made to be compatible with military life because this is an important way to retain personnel,” she says.
In fact, most military marriages occur right before a PCS or deployment. If the couple feels like they will not have access to each other during the separation, they may be inclined to marry earlier than they intended.
Lundquist adds: “The conditions of military employment also lead naturally to marriage. There’s stable employment, comprehensive family benefits, and economic mobility in an entry-level job. That’s not a common job market condition encountered by most high school graduates.”
Ellis explains it much more succinctly.
“Women like guys in uniform with a stable job and really good health insurance.”
And, in this job where they can be moved away from their friends and family at any moment, service members have a need for companionship, too.
In short, marriage in the military gives service members and their spouses a direct financial advantage. In comparison, dating a service member can seem much harder; there’s no real way to live together, and the threat of a PCS looms at any moment. With the unique conditions of military life, it’s easy to understand why these couples are quick to the altar.