Work, Self, and Military Life: The Experiences of U.S. Air Force Wives -- Michelle Still Mehta, Student, School of Human & Organizational Development
This study explores the experiences of U.S. Air Force wives who wish to pursue their own employment while frequently relocating with their military husbands. Previous research has shown that military wives face significant employment obstacles, evidenced by lower earnings, and higher rates of unemployment and underemployment compared to the general U.S. female population. While other studies have documented these employment challenges, few researchers have examined the personal experiences of the women who live with them. Through the use of 21 narrative interviews, this research focuses on military wives’ thoughts and feelings about their work-related desires, and the impact this has on their sense of self.
The findings from this study are grouped into three domains: (1) thoughts and feelings about working; (2) thoughts and feelings about not working; (3) thoughts and feelings about being a military spouse. Participants were unanimous in associating positive thoughts and feelings with working and negative thoughts and feelings with not working. Furthermore, participants expressed a great deal of ambivalence about their military lifestyle of frequent relocation, and identified both positive and negative aspects of this reality.
As a result of the data produced in this study, a model of fit is proposed with respect to work, self, and military life. The examples shared by the study participants show that military wives repeatedly assess the fit between their work-related desires and their military life with each relocation or major life event. A high degree of fit facilitates a military wife’s ability to preserve her whole self, while lack of fit will result in the need to change one’s work or self to adapt, and in some cases result in feelings of despair, depression, and loss of self. At the same, time, this process of assessment and adaptation is influenced by multi-layered gendered roles inherent in marriage, motherhood, and the military.