Attrition: The Pregnancy Problem at Sea


October 22, 2007: About 15 percent of U.S. Navy sailors are female, and 14 percent of them are single mothers. Overall, 38 percent of all female sailors have children. Caring for a child is more difficult for a single mother, so the navy now gives all new mothers twelve months guaranteed work ashore. Until recently, new mothers only had four months of that, before they were again eligible for assignment to a ship at sea. At any given time, about 14 percent of female sailors are pregnant. It's lower (about 11 percent) for women at sea, and they are sent back to a shore job once they are about halfway through their pregnancy. This causes bad feelings on the ship, because some women openly admit to using the pregnancy to get out of finishing the cruise. This is made worse by the fact that a replacement is usually not available for months, or until the ship returns to port. In terms of sheer numbers, men are worse in this regard as they are more likely, than women, to be sent home from a cruise because they got badly injured playing sports, or for disciplinary reasons.

About six percent of sailors are single fathers, but they get more help from an ex-wife in caring for the children. The military has an excellent day care system, but that only provides care during duty hours. When sailor who is a single mother is ordered to sea, she has to make arrangements for the kids to be cared for.

With so many of sailors being shifted to jobs aboard ships, and so many of those ships being sent to sea, the rising percentage of pregnant sailors has forced the navy to provide additional personnel in critical specialties. That's because losing one or two electronics specialists on a ship, that only has half a dozen of them to begin with, can be a major problem. The navy is raising standards for everyone, partly to eliminate those sailors who get injured playing, or partying, or have attitude problems. But because of Congressional pressure, there's no way to deal with the problem of crew attrition because of pregnancy.


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