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Chapter 3:



Trends in the percentage of enlisted women since FY 1973 are shown in Figure 3.5 (Appendix Table D-19 provides numerical data). Thirty years ago, because of legal restrictions, women constituted less than 2 percent of military members. In 1967, Public Law 90-30 removed the 2-percent cap on women in the military.[footnote 4] However, policies, particularly those related to the roles of women, did not change accordingly. It took nearly 20 years for the Services to achieve 10 percent representation of women.

Four factors affect the proportion of enlisted female members. First, women tend to have a lower inclination to enlist than men do.[footnote 5] Second, ground combat exclusion policies restrict the positions and skills in which women may serve. Third, the military personnel system is a "closed" system. Growth must come from within, and from the bottom up; lateral entries play virtually no role. Consequently, the gender structure of the career force is shaped primarily by the proportion of females recruited. Fourth, women leave the Services at a higher rate than men. Thus, the percentage of women in the military may not change much from current levels unless there are significant increases in female recruiting or retention.

Figure 3.5. Women as a percentage of Active Component enlisted members, by Service, FYs 1973–2002.

As a result of policy and social changes, the number of active duty enlisted women increased from nearly 32,000 in FY 1972 to a pre-drawdown peak of 196,000 in FY 1989, then down to 160,000 in FY 1995. The number and proportion of women has increased to just under 177,000, 15 percent of enlisted members, in FY 2002, an increase from nearly 172,000 in FY 2001. The increase in women in the military since FY 1972 brought about significant changes across all aspects of personnel management: in training programs and physical fitness regimens, in assignments, in living arrangements, and in medical services. It also created new administrative issues regarding pregnancy, the proportion of single parents in the military, child care arrangements during peacetime and deployment, and dual-service marriages (where husband and wife both serve in uniform).

Nearly all career fields (92 percent) are now open to women: 91 percent in the Army, 96 percent in the Navy, 93 percent in the Marine Corps, and 99 percent in the Air Force.[footnote 6] Gradual increases in the proportion of women in the military underscore the Services' commitment to recruit and retain women.

As shown in Table 3.4, the Air Force has the highest proportion of women on active duty (20 percent), while the Marine Corps has the lowest (6 percent). Percentages in the Army and Navy are 16 and 14 percent, respectively. Service differences reflect differences in the proportion of positions closed to women and the availability of occupations of interest to women. Overall, the proportion of enlisted women has gradually increased (about half a percentage point each year) over the past nine years, from 11.6 to 15.0 percent from FY 1993 to FY 2002 (Appendix Table D-19).

Table 3.4. FY 2002 Gender of Active Component Enlisted Members, by Service, and Civilian Labor Force 18-44 Years Old (Percent)
Marine Corps
Air Force
18- to 44-Year-Old Civilians

Also see Appendix Table B-23 (Age by Service and Gender).
Source: Civilian data from Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey File, September 2002.

[Footnote 4]  Born, D.H. and Lehnus, J.D., The World of Work and Women at War, paper presented at the International Military Testing Association, Toronto, Canada, October 1995. [back to paragraph]

[Footnote 5]  Memorandum from Alphonso Maldon, Jr., Assistant Secretary of Defense (Force Management Policy), Subject: 1999 Youth Attitude Tracking Study, January 11, 2000. [back to paragraph]

[Footnote 6]  News release from Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), “Secretary of Defense Perry Approves Plans to Open New Jobs for Women in the Military,” July 29, 1994. [back to paragraph]

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