NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

When Mom Goes To Sea

November 3, 1999

Children of female Navy sailors sometimes experience higher levels of sadness and anxiety when their mothers are assigned to sea duty than do children of those whose job is ashore, according to a study sponsored by the Department of Defense. The findings suggest that the Pentagon may have to beef up its social services if it is to attract, retain and deploy females for sea duty.

  • Of approximately 51,000 women in the Navy, roughly 10,000 are assigned to ships.
  • In all branches of the military, over 60 percent of all active-duty service members are married -- compared with 47 percent 20 years ago.
  • Over 14 percent of the 1.4 million volunteer force are women.
  • The survey studied 127 enlisted Navy mothers, half of whom had land jobs and half were assigned at sea for five to six months.

Also, half of the women were single parents, meaning that those deployed at sea had to place their children with relatives or other care givers.

Researchers said the children surveyed exhibited normal behavior for the most part. But there were instances where the children of deployed mothers had higher levels of sadness, withdrawal, anxiety and behavioral problems.

A Navy survey last year found that 40 percent of pregnancies for enlisted women on sea duty ended in abortion or miscarriage in 1996, compared with 23 percent for shore-based sailors. The Navy issued a new policy in 1995 that declared pregnancy as compatible with a Navy career and said women could serve aboard ship up to the 20th week of pregnancy.

Women have served on support ships since the 1970s and began working aboard combat vessels such as aircraft carriers and destroyers in the mid-1990s.

Source: Rowan Scarborough, "Female Sailors' Children Studied," Washington Times, November 3, 1999.


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