Despite all the pressures placed on military families, they have surprisingly few psychological and social problems, according to a survey by a group of child psychiatrists.

Faced with combat stress, long absences of the father and frequent moving from assignment to assignment, these families might be expected to have more divorce, alcoholism and child abuse than other families, write Dr. Peter S. Jenson and several colleagues in The Journal of Child Psychiatry.

But for various reasons, these problems did not occur. The divorce rate is apparently lower than average in military families. "The occasional separations that are built into the military system may defuse stressed marriages," they write. Sometimes, men in the Navy may "covertly volunteer" for overseas assignments to avoid divorce. At first glance, child abuse seems to be more prevalent in the military than in nonmilitary people of comparable income. But that may be because there is no unemployment in the military, so incomes are unnaturally steady. Compared with people of similar backgrounds, child abuse in the military is less common. Absences of the father had some short-lived effect on sons, sometimes causing them to be immature. But another study found "generally positive" effects on oldest sons. Daughters were unaffected. Frequent moves "may actually represent growth opportunities" for military families, helping the children learn to cope.

The authors attributed the strength of military families to the fact that people with severe psychological problems are not permitted in the military, and there is a "supportive military network."