Women in the Military:

Attrition and Retention

NSIAD-90-87BR: Published: Jul 26, 1990. Publicly Released: Aug 2, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the comparability of attrition and retention rates for men and women in the military services from fiscal years 1980 through 1988, focusing on: (1) attrition rates for men and women in officer and enlisted grades; (2) the primary separation categories for enlisted men and women during their first enlistment term; and (3) retention rates for men and women in officer and enlisted grades.

GAO found that: (1) the overall attrition loss for enlisted women was 48.6 percent, or 4.5 percent higher than the 44.1 percent rate for men, but the basic pattern of attrition losses for men and women was similar; (2) womens' rates tended to be slightly higher than mens' when measuring the intervening periods of the enlistment terms; (3) attrition losses during the first 6 months were primarily due to inadequate entry-level performance; (4) during the last 6 months mens' attrition rates were generally higher, primarily due to misconduct, drug abuse, or unsatisfactory performance, while women voluntarily left due to pregnancy; (5) womens' officer loss rates were less than 2 percent higher than mens', but the rate difference was greater for each individual service, except the Navy; (6) except for the Army, men tended to have higher officer eligibility rates after the first term, while women had higher officer eligibility rates after the third enlistment; and (7) mens' retention rates after 3 years ranged from 7.9 to 9.9 percent higher than womens', which ranged from 3.9 to 4.4 percent higher after 4 years, and, after 20 years, womens' retention was higher by 3 to 9 percent.

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