Collaborating with the US Army Research Institute for Social and Behavioral Research, we are working to answer a key question: Do soldiers leave the Army because of better opportunities in civilian life? Our data-driven approach characterizes the social and economic conditions surrounding Army installations.

army family standing in front of their home on an installation

Problem

Joining the US Army is an attractive choice for many. The positives are obtaining an education, developing skills, and receiving health, retirement, and other benefits. These may or may not outweigh the negatives of military service, factors such as long overseas deployments and the stress of active combat.

For about two-thirds of enlistees, the benefits outweigh the negatives. The final third may decide to leave the Army before completing their first tour of duty. To get a more informed perspective on the factors that may be driving military attrition, we used publicly available data on the social, economic, and demographic opportunities available to service men and women in civilian life.

Methods

To help our partners better understand key statistical factors related to military attrition, SDAL created a tool that can quickly visualize data related to the social, economic, and demographic characteristics of Army installations and their surrounding areas. The Army Installation Explorer uses publicly available data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to drive its analyses.

sample statistical map generated using the army installation explorer

This sample view from the Army Installation Explorer shows the distribution of education attainment at Aberdeen Proving Ground, north of Baltimore Maryland, and the surrounding Harford county. The stacked bars show that individuals at Aberdeen Proving Ground are slightly less likely to have a bachelor’s degree and slightly more likely to have a high school degree, associate degree, or some college, compared to individuals in Harford County. 

Impact

Understanding the characteristics of where Army enlistees live, learn, work, and play helps enhance our understanding of life as a soldier. Identifying and profiling variables for the dashboard facilitated our exploratory analysis and is a vital step toward creating a model that will help researchers learn what characteristics might affect a soldier’s decision to leave the Army.

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