Date of Award

Summer 2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Marcia Martin, PhD

Second Advisor

Shakira Espada-Campos, DSW

Third Advisor

Amy Page, DSW

Abstract

Background

A 2019 demographics report by the Department of Defense recorded male military spouses as 9.1% (54,831) of the overall active-duty military spouse population, while female military spouses represented 90.9% (550,885) (DOD, 2019). Of the abundant military community family programs, most are designed for and utilized by female spouses. In research concerning international military communities, male spouses are often excluded, or responses are too few to be statistically significant to guide program development or theoretical suppositions (Southwell et al., 2016). Subsequently, male military spouses are an understudied and often overlooked subpopulation. Additionally, male spouses have the added burden of underrepresentation, isolation from other male spouses, and stigma related to the gender norms of being a male spouse in a predominate female environment. With one-third of military service members and families experiencing a PCS (Permanent Change of Station) move each year, the obligatory process may involve transitioning to a foreign installation during which an initial stage of cross-cultural adjustment is necessary for the functioning of the service member and expatriate military spouse (Blakely et al., 2012). “Relocation Stress” is identified as one of the top five stressors of military life (Tong et al., 2018). Though mutually beneficial for both the service member and spouse, an OCONUS (Outside the Continental US) relocation can have adverse psychosocial outcomes for the expatriate male military spouse.

Methods

As an exploratory study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight (N=8) expatriate male military spouses at CFAY (Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka), the largest Navy base overseas. CFAY is in the Kanagawa Prefecture of Japan. Using a Transcendental Phenomenological research design, the study aimed to understand the shared experiences of male military spouses on their first foreign PCS. Specifically, the study questioned what psychosocial stressors expatriate male military spouses experienced, their cross-cultural adjustment experiences, coping practices utilized to mitigate psychosocial stressors, and recommended programmatic/policy changes to fit their specific needs.

Results

In response to the dearth of research on male military spouses, the objective of this dissertation was to open a dialogue on the unique experiences of this subpopulation by identifying specific cross-cultural adjustment difficulties, coping practices, psychological stressors, programmatic policy changes, and social supports deemed relevant to male military spouses on foreign installations. The resulting themes and sub-themes were: The Utility of Relevant Support (Informal Supports, Formal Supports, Support Barriers), Stressfulness (PCS Stress, Psychosocial Stress, Environmental Stress), Employment (Employment Experiences & Mobility, Beliefs about Employment & Its Significance, Employment Barriers), The Male Military Spouse Perspective (Parameters, Perceived Differences from Female Spouses, Injured Masculinity), and Adjustment (Joint Decision Making, Relationships with Local Hosts & Japanese Culture, Risk Factors v. Protective Factors, Safety). The collective narratives highlighted the need for more male representation in family programming and additional efforts to mobilize male spouses on military bases. Research participants identified employment and support barriers specific to CFAY Yokosuka. Furthermore, participants shared direct perspectives on how they have perceived their experiences as different than those of female spouses.

Comments

University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy & Practice

Available for download on Wednesday, August 31, 2022

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