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Military Spouse Employment: Part-Time Workforce Characteristics and Perspectives

GAO-24-106263 Published: Feb 08, 2024. Publicly Released: Feb 08, 2024.
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Fast Facts

For spouses of military service members, finding or keeping a job is a top concern. This Q&A report examines the demographics, employment experiences, and well-being of military spouses who worked part time.

Of approximately 270,000 military spouses who were employed, about a third worked part time in 2021, based on our estimates from DOD data.

Military spouses we interviewed said they worked part time because they needed flexible schedules to care for children and to accommodate frequent military moves. They reported challenges like being underpaid, working outside their career field, and lacking opportunities for career advancement.

Clerk at a military exchange talking to a servicemember in fatigues in a checkout line.

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What GAO Found

In 2021, about a third of employed military spouses worked part time, based on GAO's estimates using data from the Department of Defense's (DOD) most recent survey of military spouses. Overall, GAO estimates that there were about 540,000 civilian spouses of active-duty military service members. The vast majority—around 90 percent—were women. Additionally, GAO estimates that about half of all military spouses (270,000) were employed in 2021. Of those individuals who were employed, about a third (88,000) worked part time.

Military spouses GAO interviewed who worked part time reported various employment challenges, including being underpaid or overqualified for their job, lacking opportunities for career advancement, and not earning retirement benefits. Although many other civilian workers may experience similar challenges, military spouses discussed how military life—including frequent moves—contributes to their employment challenges.

In DOD's 2021 survey, military spouses who worked part time reported levels of satisfaction with military life that were similar to military spouses who worked full time. However, DOD reported that, overall, military spouses' satisfaction with military life has been decreasing since 2012.

Why GAO Did This Study

House Report 117-397 includes a provision for GAO to examine the characteristics and experiences of military spouses who work part time. GAO is providing information on the size, demographic characteristics, employment experiences, and health and well-being of this workforce.

To provide this information, GAO analyzed data from DOD's 2021 Survey of Active Duty Spouses, the most recent and comprehensive data available on the employment status and well-being of military spouses at the time of GAO's review. GAO also analyzed 2021-2022 DOD administrative data on military spouses who were employed by DOD in federal civil service positions or positions at individual military bases. Finally, GAO conducted five discussion groups with a non-generalizable sample of 17 military spouses who were selected based on whether they had part-time employment experience while their spouse was on active duty, and whether they had children.

For more information, contact John D. Sawyer at (202) 512-7215 or


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