Since the 1990s, changes in military policies — and a decade of involvement in wars — have contributed to an increase in combat exposure for women in the military. Among female veterans who had served and left the military before 1990, just 7% were exposed to combat. This figure rises to 24% among post-1990 female veterans.

That exposure will likely increase due to changes announced Feb. 9 by the Defense Department that will allow women to serve in select positions with battalions that are involved in combat operations.

This change is expected to result in 14,325 additional positions being open to women. The policy will take effect this spring, after Congress has reviewed it.

Previously, Department of Defense policy prohibited the assignment of women to any “unit below brigade level whose primary mission is direct ground combat.” In the early 1990s, the Pentagon changed its policies in a way that allowed women to serve in a greater variety of combat-related roles, such as flying in combat aircraft and serving on combat ships. This policy change resulted in an increase in the number of military woman exposed to combat.

From 1973 to 2010, the number of active-duty enlisted women in the military grew from about 42,000 to 167,000. Over that same period, the enlisted force as a whole has seen a decrease of about 738,000 service members. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.