Social Capital and the Military Spouse


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Social Capital and the Military Spouse

  1. 1. Exploring Social Capital for Military Spouse Employment<br />Cammy Elquist LoRé<br />University of the Rockies<br />Abstract<br />Ongoing effort in supporting military families includes the issue of employment for the military spouse. As presumed by the challenges inherent in frequent transfers, there exists real data on military spouses having higher education levels yet being underemployed and underpaid. Unobserved perceptions about military spouse education levels and interest to work may impact the situation. Also unobserved with any verifiable degree is the condition of the social capital network of the military spouse. <br />Exploring Social Capital for Military Spouse Employment<br />When there is a mass of people sharing an environment, realizing common interests, and ascertaining the development of trust-based relationships, the development of social capital is underway. With an environment similar to these conditions, educational institutions offer what can be considered the first platform in adulthood that incubates ties for broad networking. Other more focused networking arenas also exist via occupational interactions, recreational pastimes, childrearing exercises, and other activities associated with lifestyle and livelihood. All of these types of networking forms create the potential for access into areas of opportunity that otherwise might not exist. <br />For university-level, degree-holding wives of the active duty military, networking outside of the environment of the armed services has many challenges. Although they may exit their educational institution sharing a network similar to their school-based peer groups, over time military wives are more opt to have an unstable social network for bridging and linking to other people and organizations. With each move, the military spouse network is apt to become less stable, which has implications obtaining employment that is well suited (Lim, Golinelli, and Cho, 2007). With these frequent moves unemployment isn’t necessarily high, with the 2000 census reporting 12% unemployed. Of those with jobs, however, 38% have higher levels of education necessary for their job performance (Lim and Schulker, 2010). <br />For those married to someone in the active duty armed services, the acceptance or even preference for military life does not lead to a weaker attachment to labor market activities (Lim, Golinelli, & Cho, 2007). It is strength of this attachment to labor market options that is the probe of this social capital mapping presentation. Work done in the area of military spouse employment has documented the challenges of lower wages and less desirable positions obtained in the marketplace. In fact it is well documented that military wives are more likely than their civilian counterparts to be underemployed and underpaid (Lim & Schulker, 2010; Lim, Golinelli, & Cho, 2007). <br />The objective of this social capital approach to comparing military wives and civilian women with the same education is to display the tendency of the military lifestyle to erode the spectrum weak network ties that civilian women may more easily develop and maintain. Weak ties are different from strong ties in that weak ties create more opportunities for bridges among groups and circulate fresh information or resources. Strong ties generally are created in dense networks where bonding in characterized by mutual support and emotional intensity (Erickson, 2004). <br />Methodology<br />The study was conducted using the position generator approach to measuring social capital by Erickson (2004). The position generator was chosen to glean insight on the potential diversity of resources available to military wives (to represent the military spouse group) as compared to civilian women. Questions were also included to help perceive the propensity of social activity and the integration of existing social networks of both groups, per development by Snijders and van der Gaag (2004). <br />The study was conducted initially and primarily on the online social media site Links to the questionnaire were emailed out via the author’s facebook network, with no cross-over in relationships or any ties within the civilian female group of the surveyed population to the military wife group. In other words, no one in military wives’ group knows anyone in the civilian women’s group to the author’s knowledge. The link to the survey was also distributed via the network, an organization that supports and connects military families. <br />The survey was eighteen questions of yes/no answers that asked respondents if they knew of anyone in a certain profession well enough to recognize and talk to. The professions were categorized in five industries of health; education, arts and culture; management; sales, promotion, and trade; and military, government, and civic engagement. The eight social network formation questions (see Appendix) focus on the propensity of the respondent to make new contacts (Questions 22, 25, 26, and 27) and the integration of different types of relationships (Questions 20, 21, 23, and 24). Questions about frequency of moves, education, and the qualifying differentiator of being military spouse or not were also included in the survey. The survey utilizes a macro-approach to social capital, in focusing on the conditions for co-operation between individuals—whereas a micro-approach would emphasize the nature and forms of co-operation behavior and a meso-approach would highlight structures that enable co-operation to take place (Franke, 2005). <br />There is no claim on the statistical validity on this social capital mapping exercise. It is meant to be an exploratory suggestion into an additional element of consideration when talking about underemployment and professional satisfaction for military spouses. <br />Results<br />The survey yielded 96 responses; those who had listed High School as their education level were further filtered out. Of the 79 responses remaining, 63% confirmed that they were spouses of an active duty military person. In every <br />Table 1<br />Personal Components of Social Capital<br />question measuring the propensity to make new contacts, military wives’ percentages were higher than that of the civilian group. The question yielding the largest percentage of military wives in agreement was “Other people often call on me for help”, with 79.6% of military wives concurring in the strongly agree and agree response categories. This question also displayed the widest gap in the propensity to make new contacts, with 10.6% more military wives in the same degree of agreement over the civilian group. In every question measuring the integration of different types of relationships within the network, the civilian group percentage was higher than that of the military group. The question yielding the largest percentage of civilian women in agreement was “My good friends know my family members” with 51.7% in agreement at the strongly agree and agree response categories. The widest gap in the integration of different types of relationships into the network was represented in the “My neighbors and colleagues come to my birthday parties” with 22.7% more in the civilian group agreeing with this statement. It should be stated that when measuring these personal components of social capital, the propensity to make new contacts yielded strong agreement in both groups, with every response well each group in agreement 65-80% of the time: All questions within the integration set were consistently under 50% of agreement in either population (Table 1). <br />In the positioning of social capital between groups, double-digit percentage gaps were prevalent in five positions (occupations) where the civilian group demonstrated more network connections than the military wife group. Two positions held more network connections for the military set, that of spiritual advisors (chaplan, priest, bishop, reverend) and that of national guard members (Table 2). The occupation at the highest rank of social capital position for both groups was that of the teacher with 100% of all respondents knowing an educator. Strong commonalities regarding general network connections were shown for both groups: Military spouse connections to 10 of the occupations listed reached the 75% percentile or above; Civilian group connections to 11 of the occupations listed reached the 75% percentile or above. <br />Table 2<br />Social Capital Positioning <br />The network category of sales, trade, and promotion connections found double-digit civilian set domination in the gap between the two groups (Figure 1). Outside of this category of occupations, civilians were also more extensively connected in their social capital to human resource managers and elected officials. Network connections into the occupations of the health and education sectors had smaller percentage gaps between the two groups. <br />-4057650<br />FIGURE 2. Percentage point difference of each occupation, representing each industry category. <br />Discussion<br />Through existing programs and activities at each duty station, military wives have many opportunities to develop strong network ties. Generally, these opportunities are generated to create bonding relationships. These strong ties are characterized by an emotional intensity and mutual support that is transitive for the sharing of resources and affinities. For employment however, it has been suggested that weak ties are key for developing bridging relationships that lead to employment opportunities (Franke, 2005). Weak ties are potentially more important due to their number and diversity, which creates possibilities for access to a variety of resources (Erickson, 2004). <br />Weak ties can be developed more rapidly than strong ties. Developing weak ties into the communities surrounding duty stations could be a natural extension for professional and social organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Clubs, American Association of University Women (AAUW), Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and the like. According to the 2000 census, more than eight out of ten military wives live near metropolitan areas (Lim, Golinelli, & Cho, 2007). Post locations and proximity to these types of organizations should not be an obstacle for the educated, work-oriented rank of military spouses to develop weak ties and more open employment opportunities. As an example, one of the major social capital discrepancies described here could be dissolved with a national outreach program by SHRM, as knowing a HR manager is near the bottom of the social capital lists for the military group. <br />This social map exercise demonstrated that civilian women with the same education likely have a more extensive network of weak ties, with the civilian group also having more varied occupational/position connections. This could be further add to the unobservable dimension of why military spouses are generally underemployed and underpaid as:<br />The background factors we considered do not explain much of the difference between civilian and military wives; the civilian wives that look like military wives have similar employment and wages to other civilian wives… Yet military wives are more likely than civilian wives to fall in the bottom 30 percent of all wage-earners and less likely to fall in the top 40 percent. Most of the difference in employment rates must be due to unobserved factors. (Lim, Golinelli, & Cho, 2007, p. 45) <br />Conclusion<br />In these observations about social capital, the question is not about socialability but rather the development of relational skills that will optimize employment opportunities for military spouses. For those who have committed time, money, and effort into having a marketable education, the development of these relational skills finds unique challenges for the military spouse. This social map exercise is an attempt to bring cursory insight into this problem. <br />This problem is not one that the Department of Defense should be expected to solve alone. In fact, if any solution exists, it would require developing boundary-spanning activities into private sector’s organizational social and professional networks. Socialability is more than a state, it is a process. Programs that focus on the rapid integration of educated military spouses into private sector networking organizations would be a first step in dissolving the boundaries that exist for a qualified work force of individuals that just happen to also be military spouses. As knowledgeable individuals that have invested time, money, and effort in the successful pursuit of a marketable education, this is a portion of the work force that is underutilized and offers an exceptional degree of adaptability to employers. <br /> <br />REFERENCES<br />Erickson, B.H., 2004. A report on measuring the social capital in weak ties. Retrieved from the Policy Research Initiative website: <br />Franke, S., 2005. Measurement of Social Capital: Reference Document for Public Policy Research, Development, and Evaluation. Retrieved from Policy Research Institute website:<br />Lim, N. & Schulker, D., 2010. Measuring underemployment among military spouses. <br />Retrieved from Rand website:<br />Lim, N., Golinelli, D., & Cho M., 2007. “Working around the military” revisited. Retrieved from Rand website:<br />Van der Gaag, M. & Snijders, T., 2004. The Resource Generator: Measurement of Individual Social Capital with Concrete Items. Retrieved from Science Direct website:<br />Appendix A<br />Sample of Survey<br />SOCIAL CAPITAL COMPARISON<br />Created and distributed via November 24, 2010, 9:44 AM<br />Last modified: December 07, 2010, 8:03 AM<br />Thanks for taking this survey!  Below the questions will ask you if you know people in some kind of work, for example if you know any carpenters.  You do not have to know these people really well, but should know them by name, by sight and also well enough to talk to (even if it has been awhile since you've interacted with them). Appreciate your time & input!<br />SOCIAL CAPITAL COMPONENT (Yes/No Answers)<br />A yes/no answer was offered for the eight questions below:<br />HEALTH INDUSTRY<br />1. Do you know a dentist?<br />2. Do you know a nurse?<br />3. Do you know a pharmacist?<br />EDUCATION, ARTS, AND CULTURE<br />4. Do you know a school teacher?<br />5. Do you know anyone who consults, tutors, or trains others for a living?<br />6. Do you know a professional photographer, painter, or sculptor?<br />7. Do you know someone who performs in the realms of music, dance, or acting?<br />MANAGEMENT<br />8. Do you know an accountant or a tax professional?<br />9. Do you know a human resources manager?<br />10. Do you know a financial advisor?<br />SALES, PROMOTION, AND TRADE<br />11. Do you know someone who is a Direct Marketer (i.e. Tupperware, Pampered Chef, Lea Sophia, etc.)?<br />12. Do you know someone who is in retail service (i.e. grocery, clothing, bookstore, etc)?<br />13. Do you know a carpenter, plumber, or electrician?<br />14. Do you know someone who works for a media outlet (could be a reporter, editor, or salesperson)?<br />15. Do you know a priest, bishop, reverend or chaplain?<br />MILITARY, GOVERNMENT, AND CIVIC ENGAGEMENT<br />16. Do you know an elected official?<br />17. Do you know someone who volunteers for the National Guard?<br />18. Do you regularly participate in the activities of an network-oriented organization (ie Professional association, Rotary, Soroptimist, FRG)? <br />19. Do you know someone who works for a municipality?<br />Appendix A<br />Sample of Survey (continued)<br />INDIVIDUAL COMPONENT <br />Strongly AgreeAgreeSomewhat AgreeNeutralSomewhat DisagreeDisagreeStrongly Disagree<br />The seven-point answer scale above was offered for the following eight questions:<br />20. Sometimes I do things for others while I don't feel like doing it. <br />21. Other people often call on me for help. <br />22. Most of my friends know each other.<br />23. I easily make contact with others.<br />24. On my friends' or at children's birthday parties there are many people I hardly know.<br />25. My good friends also know my family members.<br />26. My neighbors and colleagues come to my birthday parties.<br />27. I send my neighbors and colleagues holiday and/or sentiment cards.<br />28. How often have you moved since 1995 (15 years)?<br />0-3 times<br />4-5 times<br />Six or more times<br />29. Are you the spouse of an active duty military person? <br />Yes/No<br />30. What level of education do you have? <br />High School<br />Bachelor’s Degree<br />Master’s Degree or Higher<br /> Authors note: Questions 22, 25, 26 and 27 are above measure the propensity to make new contacts, while questions 20, 21, 23 and 24 measure the integration of different types of relationships in the network. <br />