April 26, 2012

Women in Combat During the Post-9/11 Wars

30%

Three-in-ten (30%) female veterans say they have served in a combat or war zone since 9/11; that compares to 57% of male veterans say they have done so.

The experience of female veterans in the post-9/11 military differs from those of men — they are less likely to have served in combat (30% of women compared to 57% of men), more likely to have never been deployed away from their permanent duty station (30% of women compared to 12% of men) and less likely to have served with someone who was killed while performing their duties in the military (35% of women compared to 50% of men).

These findings draw on data from two surveys of veterans: a Pew Research Center survey of a nationally representative sample conducted July 28-Sept. 4, 2011, and the July 2010 Current Population Survey (CPS) Veterans Supplement.

Among living veterans, only 15% of women served in combat, compared with 35% of men. Since the 1990s, changes in military policies and two ongoing wars have contributed to an increase in combat exposure among women. The share of women who have been engaged in combat rose from 7% among pre-1990 female veterans to 24% among post-1990 female veterans.

Last February, the Pentagon announced changes to its assignment policy, allowing women to serve in select positions with battalions that are involved in combat operations (though the changes stopped short of officially allowing women to serve in combat). This week, the Marine Corps announced steps towards including women in combat units.

Although fewer women than men have served in combat, post-9/11 women veterans still deal with the same strains of war upon returning home. They are as likely as men to report having suffered from post-traumatic stress (42% of women vs. 35% of men); to have frequently felt irritable or angry (45% vs. 47%); and to have felt that they didn’t care about anything (27% vs. 33%) since they left the service. They are also as likely as men to say they have experienced strains in their familial relationships. Read More