Work, Self, and Military Life: The Experiences of US Air Force Wives -- Michelle Still Mehta
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 obstacles to maintaining employment, 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 to self.
The findings from this study are grouped into thoughts and feelings across three domains: working, not working, and 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 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. A high degree of fit facilitates a military wife’s ability to preserve her whole self, while lack of fit results 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. This process is influenced by multi-layered gendered roles inherent in marriage, motherhood, and the military.
KEY WORDS: military wife, military spouse, employment, work, self, gender roles