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Written by: Josie E. Beets, JD and Kayla Reed-Fitzke, PhD, LMFT

Military spouses often find themselves battling on the employment front, working to secure and maintain careers while managing the unique lifestyle demands of military life. The 2021 Active Duty Spouse Survey sheds light on these ongoing challenges, revealing hurdles that impede career continuity and financial stability for military families.

The Mobile Nature of Military Life

One of the most significant factors affecting military spouse employment is the mobile nature of military life. Frequent relocations are part and parcel of being connected to the military – service members can expect to move at the needs of the military service every two to three years, generally across state lines and sometimes overseas. These moves can disrupt career trajectories, as spouses often must leave jobs and search for new opportunities in unfamiliar locations. The 2021 survey results show that over 30 percent of military spouses cited relocation as the primary barrier to maintaining continuous employment (Office of People Analytics, 2023). This instability can make it difficult to gain professional traction and advance in a career.

Licensing and Certification Challenges

For spouses in professions requiring state-specific licenses—such as teaching, nursing, or law—the need to re-certify or meet different state requirements can be both costly and time-consuming. The 2021 survey highlighted this issue, with 31 percent reporting having to secure a new professional license or credential after moving with the military (Office of People Analytics, 2023). This issue not only delays their ability to enter the workforce after a move but can also discourage some from pursuing their careers altogether.

Limited Employment Opportunities

The locations where military families are assigned often have limited employment opportunities, especially in specialized fields. Rural or isolated bases can pose a significant challenge for spouses seeking employment that matches their skills and experience. According to the survey, 16 percent of military spouses reported that the lack of suitable job opportunities near military installations was a major barrier to employment (Office of People Analytics, 2023).

Positive Strides and Supportive Measures

Despite these challenges, there are positive strides being made to support military spouses in their employment journey through in-person and virtual employment readiness services. Installation employment readiness programs offer in-person services on military bases around the world. The Defense Department also brings employment and education support to spouses through the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities Program.

  • The MySECO website is a one-stop online career and education toolbox that provides information, resources, and interactive features designed to assist military spouses pursuing educational and career goals.
  • The SECO Career Center supplies comprehensive one-on-one educational and career coaching services through master’s level, certified career coaches and tools like Udemy and FlexJobs.
  • The My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) scholarship is a workforce development program that provides eligible military spouses with up to $4,000 of tuition assistance to assist them in the pursuit or maintenance (including continuing education courses) of licenses, certifications, certificates, and associate degrees for careers and occupations.
  • The Military Spouse Employment Partnership connects spouses to corporations, small businesses, Federal agencies, and non-profits that have committed to recruit, hire, promote, and retain military spouses.
  • The Military Spouse Career Accelerator Pilot is a competitive, 3-year pilot program that provides military spouses with 12-week paid fellowships with industry. In its first year, more than 400 military spouses have participated in the program, and more than 80 percent moved on to full-time employment with their employer host; 70 percent of those positions were in fully remote employment.

Next Steps

The findings from the 2021 Active Duty Spouse Survey paint a vivid picture of the employment challenges faced by military spouses. These challenges are not just individual struggles but are indicative of broader systemic issues that require continued attention and action from both governmental and private sectors.

Moving forward, continuing to enhance support systems and expand career development opportunities for military spouses are crucial. It’s not only about providing career development and support alongside job openings. It’s also about ensuring access to roles that are fulfilling and provide career advancement opportunities that respect the professional aspirations and diverse talents of military spouses. By addressing these challenges, we can better support our military families in leading secure, stable, and fulfilling lives.


Office of People Analytics. Defense Personnel Analytics Center. (2023). 2021 Active Duty Spouse Survey. (Report No. 2023-045). Retrieved from:

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