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Public and Employer Evaluations of Military Spouses Seeking Work

Meredith Kleykamp investigates substantial and pervasive employment disadvantages for military spouses

Research is unequivocal in establishing a labor force penalty for being married to someone serving in the armed forces. Military spouses, 93% of whom are wives, experience higher rates of under- and unemployment relative to comparable civilian spouses. These substantial and pervasive employment disadvantages are hypothesized to stem from a series of structural challenges facing military spouses including: frequent relocations hindering accumulation of job experience and firm-specific human capital; the relatively limited labor markets in which many military installations are located; and possibly employer discrimination in hiring military spouses owing to presumptions of future mobility. Military spouse employment is an extreme example of tied migration, wherein a spouse moves along with her partner even though her own career may not benefit from the move. While a growing body of evidence repeatedly documents the military spouse employment penalty, little empirical research explicitly tries to adjudicate the mechanisms generating such outcomes. This project seeks to fill this gap. The proposed set of studies use complementary experimental and qualitative methods across three primary data collection efforts in four cities (a national survey vignette experiment, an audit study in four labor markets, and employer interviews in the same four labor markets) to identify whether and to what extent the general public and actual hiring agents treat military spouses seeking employment differently than similar civilian peers, and why. In doing so, Dr. Kleykamp and her colleagues explicitly evaluate how past geographic mobility and future expectations of geographic stability influence evaluations of women job seekers, and whether past and future geographic stability accounts for any differential evaluations of military spouse job seekers. The main goals of the project are to:

  1. identify how military spouses fare in hiring, documenting the extent of differential evaluation and treatment of military spouses and whether military spouse treatment varies across labor markets,
  2. investigate the mechanisms explaining why the public and employers treat military spouses as they do, how they evaluate military spouse status, and what meaning military connection holds in the civilian hiring process and
  3. adjudicate some of the competing explanations for differential military/civilian spouse employment outcomes focusing on past geographic mobility and expectations of future mobility as key determinants of military spouse disadvantage in hiring.
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