skip to main content
Slim Majority Says Women in Military Face Unfair Obstacles

Slim Majority Says Women in Military Face Unfair Obstacles

by Jim Norman
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • 46% say women have equal chance at promotions and jobs in military
  • 68% think minorities have as good a chance as whites

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- About half (52%) of Americans think women in the U.S. military do not have as good a chance as men to get promotions or jobs for which they are qualified. Almost two-thirds (63%) of women agree that men have an unfair advantage, a potentially important stumbling block for military recruiters.

Sexes Differ on Equality of Opportunity for Women in Military
In general, do you think that women have as good a chance as men in the military to get a job or promotion for which they are qualified?
As good a chance Not as good a chance
% %
All adults 46 52
Women 37 63
Men 57 43
GALLUP, APRIL 24-MAY 2, 2017

Some of the public's perceptions of equal opportunity for women in the military could be related to the long history of women being barred from certain military roles -- including combat positions, serving on submarines, and serving as Army Rangers and Navy SEALS. The policy blocking women from combat roles, which posed a significant obstacle to promotions for women, was rescinded in a 2015 Defense Department decision lifting all gender-based restrictions on positions in the military. The change opened about 220,000 combat positions to women.

The finding that only about a third of women believe they have the same opportunities as men in the military could have significant implications for military recruiting. Attempts by the military to recruit women into its ranks face the clear obstacle that women are more likely to think they will be treated fairly in the civilian workforce. A Gallup poll last year asking about all jobs in the U.S. found that 43% of women said they had equal opportunities as men have.

Most Think Minority Groups, Whites Have Equal Chance at Jobs, Promotions

Americans are far more likely to think the military gives minority groups a fair shot at promotions and jobs. Two-thirds (68%) say minority groups have the same chance as whites. Three in five nonwhites -- a category that includes blacks, Asians and Hispanics -- agree.

Majorities of Whites, Nonwhites Say Minority Groups Have Equal Chances in Military
In general, do you think that minority groups have as good a chance as whites in the military to get a job or promotion for which they are qualified?
As good a chance Not as good a chance
% %
All adults 68 29
Nonwhites 60 40
Whites 73 27
GALLUP, APRIL 24-MAY 2, 2017

Minorities have served in the U.S. military in every major war the U.S. has fought, but racial integration within the ranks did not effectively occur until 1948. An executive order issued that year by President Harry Truman established a policy of "equality of treatment and opportunity … without regard to race, color, religion or national origin."

In the latter decades of the 20th century, with many blacks believing the military offered better job opportunities than the civilian world, the percentage of blacks serving in the armed forces was considerably higher than the proportion of blacks in the overall U.S. population. However, those numbers have declined in recent years.

As is the case with women, the higher percentage of nonwhites who believe that minorities do not have equal opportunities in the military could be a barrier to recruitment. Adding to the challenge of recruiting blacks, a report released this month by the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders alleges that data from the Defense Department show blacks in the military "face military justice or disciplinary action at much higher rates than white service members in every service branch." The report also mentioned the low percentage of black officers.


Americans, in general, have a high regard for the U.S. military these days:

  • Seventy-two percent say they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the military, more than double the 35% average for the 14 major institutions Gallup measures annually. The military tops this year's rankings of institutions on the confidence list, as has been the case for two decades.
  • More than three-fourths of the public has a favorable opinion of each of the five military branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard).

However, the public's feeling of goodwill toward the armed forces does not necessarily mean Americans want their loved ones enlisting. While a majority of Americans aged 25 and older would recommend that their children or grandchildren join the Air Force (64%) or the Navy (53%), fewer than half would recommend joining the Coast Guard (48%), Marines (43%) or Army (41%). Among those who think that women or minorities do not get an even break, the number who would recommend the branches is even lower -- 53% for the Air Force, 40% for the Navy and Coast Guard, 33% for the Marines and 32% for the Army.

The public's perception of the military as a good career choice can have a major impact on the caliber of those who join, and the question of whether the various branches offer equal opportunities for women and minorities is most likely a significant part of that perception.

In the words of Gallup Senior Scientist and former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, "It is important for [mentors to young adults such as parents, grandparents, teachers and coaches] to believe that the military offers at least as good an opportunity for promotions as other choices because it's those people who influence young people."

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 24-May 2, 2017, with a random sample of 1,026 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030