Gender Issues:

Trends in the Occupational Distribution of Military Women

NSIAD-99-212: Published: Sep 14, 1999. Publicly Released: Sep 14, 1999.

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Norman J. Rabkin
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the trends in the occupational distribution of military women, focusing on: (1) all occupations women were in during fiscal years 1990 and 1998, particularly those with the highest percentage of women; and (2) systemic barriers, if any, that limit women entering certain occupations.

GAO noted that: (1) as was the case in the early 1990s, a large percentage of military women continue to work in the areas of health care, administration, personnel, and supply occupations; (2) however, data suggest that military women, both enlisted and officers, are beginning to enter more nontraditional fields such as aviation, surface warfare, air traffic control, and field artillery; (3) while most military occupations and career fields are open to women, GAO identified two institutional barriers that limit the number of women going into these occupations; (4) because of Department of Defense (DOD) and service policies, some units are closed to women even though the units may include occupations that are open to women; (5) as a result, the number of women that can enter some career fields is limited; (6) the Navy limits the number of women in medical corpsmen training because the Navy provides corpsmen to Marine Corps units that are closed to women; (7) the Marine Corps limits the number of women that can serve as helicopter crew chiefs because helicopters are often assigned to ships and not all Navy ships can accommodate women at this time; (8) in the Army, some occupations may be open to women, but the number of enlisted women or officers in those occupations is limited because many of the job slots are in male-only units; (9) another barrier is the test used to match enlisted personnel to occupations--the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test--which contains sections that are based on exposure to a subject instead of aptitude; (10) for example, one section tests knowledge of automotive components, systems, tools, and repairs; (11) a person who has had little or no exposure to the workings of automobiles would not likely do well on this section of the test; (12) studies have found that women generally do not score well on this section of the test as well as those sections that test mechanical comprehension or electronic information because many women have had little or no exposure to these subjects; (13) attitudes are mixed on the impact of this type of test; (14) some officials believe that if people have not had exposure to certain subject matter, they are most likely not interested in that field even if they have an aptitude for the subject matter; (15) others believe that people should be given a chance if they have an aptitude for the subject matter; and (16) DOD test designers are working on a new section of the ASVAB, assembling objects, which might mitigate the technical test's effects on women's scores.

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