Women have increasingly joined the U.S. Armed Forces over the last 50 years. Before the country ended military conscription in 1973, women made up about 1% of active-duty personnel. As of 2021, the share of women on active duty in the military had increased to 17.3%. The percentage of women serving as commissioned officers also rose accordingly, from 4% in 1973 to 20% in 2021. (A few nations have a much higher share of women service members. These are the countries with the most women serving in the military.)
As women began establishing themselves in diverse roles and leadership positions in the ‘80s and ‘90s, debates about women in combat took the floor. In 1994, President Clinton took a small step and rescinded a 1988 “Risk Rule,” essentially allowing women to serve in all roles except for direct ground combat. And in 2015, the historic ban on women serving in combat positions was lifted, opening the doors for them to serve in almost any military role.
To find how many women serve in each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces today, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2021 Demographics, Profile of the Military Community, a report published by the Department of Defense. All data is from the report.
Click here to see how many women serve in each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Today, about one in six active-duty service members are female, with more women enlisted in the Army than any in other branch. However, the shares of women serving in each the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Space Force are comparable, ranging from about 15% to 21%. The Marine Corps has a much smaller share, with only 9% women.
The majority of women service members serve as supply handlers, health care officers, communication and intelligence specialists, electrical and mechanical equipment repairers, and administrators. Although women have been steadily integrating into a diversity of roles including combat positions, the share of women in senior leadership positions still lags, with only 6% of four star generals being women. (These are the greatest women in military history.)
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