About the project

Through the centuries, the military organization has been subjected to evolution, much like any other organization. Therefore, the position of the military in societies has been changing as well. Similarly, the research on military organizations from the perspective of military sociology has been moving from general themes to very specific ones. The research on military families’ health is congruent with such a development. We have applied the United Nations definition: The family is constituted of at least one adult person or more adults taking care of a child/children. We add that for the purpose of our research one of the parents must be member of Slovenian armed forces and there must be at least one child younger than 18 years, to classify the family as military family.

The military as an institution, as well as service members and their families, constitute a significant part of society; consequently, their well-being and health outcomes manifest on various social levels. Research on military families needs to be put into the wider social context, especially social changes in this field during the last fifty years. This enables us to explain specific characteristics of military families and their way of family life and the challenges and problems that they are facing. Particular attention is paid to general trends, characteristic for Western countries, as well as specificities of family life in Slovenia. This is particularly relevant since the majority of literature comes from other Western countries. Among the phenomena that have to be taken into account we find changes in gender roles (gender equality, employment of women), division of labour in the family and reconciliation of work and family responsibilities, and changes in relation to children or new social imperatives regarding parenting (protective child-rearing, continuously increasing norms regarding successful parenting etc.). In the Slovenian context, we must not overlook the fact that despite the predominant model of two-generational families (parents and children), we have strong and well-developed intergenerational and kinship networks and that the third generation (grandparents) plays an important role, especially regarding caring for children/grandchildren, unpaid family work etc., which is an extremely important element in terms of support the family receives in everyday life.

All aforementioned needs to be taken into account when analysing military demands (e.g., the demand on service members to devote their lives to the service or take the lives of others in the name of the country). Such demands affect the whole family and often lead to various dysfunctions (e.g., stress in children, family violence, alcohol abuse, depression), which have a long-term negative impact on society (e.g., health, education). Coser (1974) defined both the military and the family as ‘greedy’ institutions.

Project will outline the spectrum of demands that military life puts on service members and their families and the effect of these demands on family health outcomes and well-being. Based on indicators identified in previous research and application of the Bronfenbrenner's model, we have developed a causation model of socio-ecological risk/protective factors affecting family health outcomes. We used a top down approach and identified the main problems that should be resolved in order to understand potential negative health outcomes. Those are: identification of key risk/protective factors (including the national and institutional formal/legal frame), developing an appropriate measuring tool to quantify them, as well as understanding the differences between military and civilian environments. Only addressing all aforementioned problems will enable us to identify the full spectrum of negative health outcomes within military families and to develop/propose appropriate interventions. 

Research objectives

1) Review current national (Slovenian) policies and support programmes, as well as compare general national and specific military support programmes and policies.

2) Modify the list of identified military family health outcomes based on social and cultural specifics and evaluate the appropriateness of the selected measurement tool.

3) Identify key risk/protective factors for each health outcome within an individual socio-ecological level and develop an integrative risk/protective factors model, along with proposals for intervention.

4) Establish whether risk/protective factors are military-specific.

We will apply an integrative approach, observing military families from various scientific perspectives (e.g., military sociology, psychology, behavioural science) and on different socio-ecological levels, enabling us to observe the interplay of risk/protective factors on various socio-ecological levels. The measurement tool (scales) has mostly been developed in Western societies and needs to be tested it to find out whether it is appropriate for the Slovenian cultural and social environment. We have developed the model of risk/protective factors for selected military family health outcomes, which will be tested and modified, providing a comprehensive overview of essential issues military families are facing. Simultaneously, we will include a civilian sample to test whether risk/protective factors are military-specific.

Our proposed research project is the first integrative research on military families that will include all aforementioned risk protective factors on various socio-ecological levels with the aim to identify how as well as how strongly they affect family health outcomes.

Additionally, we will include a comparison with civilian families with the purpose of identifying military specific factors. The civilian testing will open up the possibility for further research on the significance of the effect that military life has on risk/protective factors for family health outcomes. The  proposed project will broaden and deepen the research on a specific subfield within military sociology in Slovenia and internationally. Thirdly, the research project will integrate different scientific approaches and perspectives, leading to a comprehensive approach to studying military families. Fourthly, the tested "Model of risk/preventive factors for military family health outcomes" will enable various stakeholders (e.g., military support structures, military leaders, teachers, social workers, etc.) to recognise the issues pertaining to military families and know how to address them. Based on survey results, we will propose appropriate interventions to prevent negative health outcomes. Testing the interventions will not be a part of this research project.