Marine Corps Study on Women in Combat 'Flawed' and Incomplete

Illustration for article titled Marine Corps Study on Women in Combat 'Flawed' and Incomplete

Last month, the Marine Corps released a year-long study that tested women’s readiness to serve in combat units. At the time of the study’s release, NPR called the results “stark,” adding that the “all-male units outperformed mixed-gender units across the board.” That study came months before January 1 deadline to integrate the military by opening all jobs to women. The then Commandant of the Marine Corps, Joseph Dunford, reportedly weighed the study as he prepared “to make a crucial decision regarding the integration of female troops into closed combat roles.” According to reports, Dunford made his decision prior to being promoted to the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September.


Now it looks that the study was not only deeply and fundamentally flawed, but that the Marines didn’t release the entire study.

The Guardian reports:

“[..] critics said the corps’ decision to release only a four-page summary of its study, which focused on negative aspects of women as marines while keeping the bulk of the study under wraps, was ‘hugely problematic.’

One of the report’s released conclusions found that: ‘The integration of females … will add a level of risk in performance/effectiveness and cost … The bottom line is that the physiological differences between males and females will likely always be evident to some extent.’

But other pages from the report, seen by the Guardian, indicate that women were not expected to pose problems for ground-combat units, so long as clear standards, diligent screening of candidates and good training and leadership were in place.”

Other unpublished parts of the study found that mixed-gender units had “superior problem-solving” and better discipline. The four pages released by the Marine Corps emphasized that men were better at long distance hikes with heavy equipment and their lower rates of injury.

The Marine Corps is believed to be the only branch of the military to ask for an exclusion to the gender integration mandate. The recommendations were made to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter in early October. Carter will announce his decision before the January 1 deadline.

Image via AP.



It’s like people have no clue how data points work.

You can’t possible know what REALLY is going on because this study, in and of itself, has very very limited generalizability. A year with one set of recruits at one base (granted, it’s 300 people but the N is much smaller when you break it down into military units) is just not going to have the external validity we all want. An in-depth, many-years-long study of various units in real combat and on base at home while training would be far superior - especially if it also contained largely qualitative aspects. Basically a large-scale 7Up for the military. If I remember correctly, the study was LARGELY qualitative and taken at a time of unprecedented change in the military (integration of women into combat units, right?) and that is the only data point.

Much more will be needed to determine this. I know we are super duper limited with data. I’m just not a big fan of shouting this stuff from the rooftops when there are so many glaring issues with the external validity here. It’s a start but nothing more than that. And a lot of journalists have done a shitty job of covering it because they don’t understand research design.