Date of Award

August 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Andrew S. London

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


How do current day military institutional practices structure the daily lives of military wives? To answer this question, I use the theories of greedy institutions, militarization, and the life-course perspective to investigate the effects of deployments, temporary duty assignments, and training exercises, which coalesce to create long-term family separations, as well long work hours and frequent family geographic moves. In total, I conducted in-depth interviews with 38 women and 2 men, used as supplemental data, who were married to active duty U.S. military service members at the time of their interview. I find the military’s organization of work creates certain work-family constraints that produces a sense of disorder within military family life. This disorder is constituted and sustained through military wives’ experiences of chronic uncertainty, related to when service members will be away for training, a deployment, or when they will be released from work at the end of the day. Due to these constraints, military wives’ reproductive labor becomes structured through the ways that institutional practices impact military families. As a result, service members’ military work responsibilities become privileged, which reproduces the gendered division of labor. Furthermore, I find that these institutionally produced work-family constraints position military wives in a subordinate social location. To sustain themselves within this social positioning, participants draw upon particular forms of sense-making, that includes perceptions of military authority, comparing reproductive labor with military work, and the use of children as a form of motivation, all of which result in military wives’ accommodation and acquiescence of the military’s institutional practices. Finally, as a result of these institutional constraints, participants often struggle to maintain a sense of self outside of their family and institutional roles. Negotiating their liminal position, some participants activate institutional discourses related to two military wife stereotypes, the wife who wears her husband’s rank, and the dependapotamus, which are operationalized within a process of comparison and disassociation. These stereotypes are constructed within the military’s system of stratification, which results in the reproduction of social class within military family communities. Overall, this study demonstrates how the gendered division of labor is enduring within the U.S. military, as well as how military wives’ reproductive labor and forms of sense-making sustain the military institution. These findings also document how the work that is required by military wives to sustain themselves within the work-family constraints created by the military, results in the reproduction of the very social conditions they confront on a daily basis.


Open Access