Blue Star Families survey shows growing number who serve would not recommend life in military

Citing quality-of-life issues, only 1 in 3 would recommend career in military, down from 55% in 2016

Military families are less likely to recommend military life to others because of lingering quality-of-life issues, according to the recent results of a prestigious nationwide survey.

The Military Family Lifestyle Survey conducted by Blue Star Families generated more than 7,400 responses and showed that the percentage of active-duty family members who said they would recommend military service dropped precipitously, from 55% in the 2016 survey to 32% in this year’s survey.

At the same time, the percentage of those in the military who were unlikely to recommend military service doubled, from 16% in the 2016 survey to 31% today.

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This data comes only four months after Ashish Vazirani, the Department of Defense’s acting undersecretary for personnel and readiness, testified before Congress that the military services had collectively missed their 2023 recruiting goals by 41,000 and that, “The all-volunteer force faces one of its greatest challenges since its inception in 1973.”

The survey results concern Jessica Strong, senior director of applied research at Blue Star Families.

“Military families are the most critical untapped potential to solve the national recruiting crisis,” she said. “To save the all-volunteer force, we have to address military families’ concerns.”

The most frequently cited quality-of-life issue in the survey was “spousal unemployment (49%) followed by:

  • Being away from home/family (38%);
  • Military pay (37%);
  • Off-base housing (36%);
  • Children’s education (33%).

Other concerns frequently cited were the cost of housing and frequent relocation, lack of available treatment for mental health issues and food insecurity, as well as the cost and availability of child care.

Respondents were allowed to identify up to five issues.

Spousal unemployment is identified as the top quality-of-life issue in the latest survey of military families by Blue Star Families.

The survey did note that actions taken by the Department of Defense to increase pay, housing allowances and temporary lodging allowances helped make “incremental progress,” but the report concluded, “There is still a long way to go before all quality-of-life challenges related to military life are addressed.”

Strong, herself a military spouse, emphasized it was critical for military families to feel connected to the communities where they live and work.

Six of 10 respondents in the survey reported they had moved four or more times and identified their greatest worries as dealing with their parental responsibilities. They also cited their mental health and that of their children as major concerns.

“Social networks become critical for military families as they move from one assignment to another,” Strong said. “Families who feel they belong have greater well-being and they have the highest likelihood of recommending military service.”

The complete results of the survey can be found here.

Methodology: Blue Star Families is a nationwide nonprofit that coordinates and provides support to military families. The 14th Annual Blue Star Families’ Military Family Lifestyle Survey was conducted between May to July 2023, in collaboration with Syracuse University’s D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families. It generated 7,431 total responses from active-duty personnel, National Guard and Reserve service members, veterans and family members.