5 Difference Between Military and Civilian Life

Written by

John Cotton


Logan Miller

difference between military and civilian life

Understanding the difference between military and civilian life is a process everyone joining the military should take. Is military life for you? What things do you need to sacrifice? Are you ready for extreme changes in lifestyle?

Becoming a military member is an honorable decision, but one shouldn’t take this life-changing decision lightly.

This post discusses the changes people experience in responsibilities, living arrangement, laws, and the benefits, advantages, disadvantages, expectations, and transition during retirement.

Civilian and Military Differences


Before digging deeper into the pros and cons of military life, here are some terms you should know:

The term civilian refers to a person or object that didn’t originate in the military. For example, “civilian clothes.”

In this context, civilian life meaning is the life of a non-military person. While many ex-military consider themselves “now a civilian,” you don’t necessarily have to be a former military to be considered a “civilian.”

Individuality and Freedom of Civilians vs. Military

As civilians, you are free to choose many aspects of your life, from your looks to the clothing that you wear.

In the military, you are considered part of an organization. As such, you follow grooming and appearance standards set by your particular organization. These rules are placed to prevent lice and similar diseases in the camp and maintain uniformity in the field.

Here are some of the major factors you should consider.

1. Day-to-Day Life


What is life in the military like?

Joining the military is life-changing. It would literally change many aspects of your day-to-day life.

These include:

 01 Careers Options

What you see depicted in movies as military jobs is just a tiny percentage of the careers available in the military.

Just like jobs for civilians, military jobs can be specific, such as army cook, Marine Corps medic, Air Force telecommunications specialists, Navy electrician, etc.

Army recruiters usually help those interested in a career in the military to find a specific occupation specific to a person’s skill set, future goals and preference.

For civilians, school guidance counselors or life coaches can help with their career paths. Some military jobs for civilian life may also be available.

 02 Length of service

Those who enlist in the military usually sign up for four years of active duty and two to four years of inactive duty.

During active duty, military professionals are contractually obligated to complete this commitment. Exceptions to this rule would be on a case-to-case basis, but often fall under medical reasons.

Civilians can hop from one company to the next easier.

 03 Training

All military personnel are encouraged to stay physically fit, which in turn reduces stress, increases productivity, and improves mental health.

The six branches of the military (Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, or Space Force) have a different set of physical fitness requirements.

Meanwhile, civilians have the freedom to choose whether to workout or not.

 04 Family and Social life

The military has programs that include families as part of relocation. Of course, those assigned in war zones and dangerous missions may not be so lucky and would have to accept keeping long-distance relationships.

Socialization in the military is often limited to work-friends, especially when deployed in bases and similar housing.

Civilians do not have the same limitations as the military when it comes to family life and socialization.

2. Deployment & Housing


Civilian and military governments spend on dorms, campsites, barracks, and other types of accommodations all over the country and worldwide.

Some military personnel would be housed in government-owned facilities completely free, while others are given access to discounted housing. It depends entirely on the position they hold in the military and the place of assignment.

Military families have the option to live in on-base housing.

Civilians are able to live wherever they prefer without their career being on the line.

3. Laws Civilians vs. Military Follow


Military vs civilian culture, rules and regulations slightly differ. Both civilians and military personel must follow federal and local laws.

However, the military is serious about offenses involving fraud, government property theft, sexual misconduct, DUIs, war/violent crimes, insubordination, desertion, and AWOL.

Some militar laws also do not apply to civilians.

4. Soldiers vs Civilians Compensation and Benefits


Comparing military vs civilian pay is useless because there are an unlimited number of factors to consider when it comes to salary.

  • A newly-enlisted person in the army can earn around $2100 a month with insurance, paid holidays, and other benefits.
  • A newly-graduate civilian can earn the same amount but with 50% commissions on sales.
  • Both are compensated well.

Just like any job, it is important you agree with the pay and understand the benefits before enlisting in the military. Be aware of benefits such as life insurance, medical, dental, housing, continuous education, leadership training, and more.

Note that reading military writing vs civilian writing is somewhat different. Military text is often comparable to legal or formal writing, so if you are unsure of compensation, benefits and other details of your contract, seek advise first before signing the dotted line.

5. Retirement


Retirement is never easy, even for civilians. A person’s day-to-day routine changes dramatically when they retire.

Life after the military can be extra challenging for people whose life was spent mostly in the military.

Military members have a Thrift Savings Plan and various pension options.

While civilians could get a 401(k) or a type of employer-sponsored retirement savings plan, retirement of civilians is less secure.

Pros and Cons

Military life and civilian life both have advantages and disadvantages, but this section focuses mostly on the military side.

  • Potential dangers: You don’t need to read personal stories of ex-military on Reddit to know that many servicemen and women work in war zones and dangerous areas.
  • Loneliness: Not all military have benefitted from on-camp family housing. There’s a bigger percentage of servicemen and women who are separated from their families. This is the reality and it could be lonely.
  • Education: Many high school graduates who do not want to end up in debt with student loans or have no money for college enlist in the military. This is because the military offers numerous educational pathways.
  • Intense training: Anyone who enlists in the military undergo training to strengthen the mind, body and soul. The difference between the military mindset vs civilian mindset is often attributed to training.
  • Life-long relationships: The bonds built in the military have been depicted in pop culture due to the uniqueness and complexity of shared trauma and experiences. Even military wives attest that they rarely find in the civilian world the kind of friendships their husbands developed during their military stint.

There are expectations that individuality is stripped off when you join the military. From sticking to strict schedules to responding to higher-ranking officials… These things require getting used to.

Frequently Asked Questions


What is a military lifestyle like in civilian life? Are there any similarities?

Civilian life and military life may seem world’s apart, but they’re actually very similar.

If you look at military as a job, you’ll see that military life requires them to follow the rules, show up to “work,” fullfill their work schedules in order to earn money.

In most cases, jobs in the military and civilian life both deal with co-workers, supervisors and bosses.

Which branch has the best military life?

If you decide to join the military, one of the next questions you’ll ask yourself is: which branch do I join?

The Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy or Space Force have pros and cons. There is no single branch better than the other.

Why is the military different from civilian life?

Military life is known for instilling independence on people and building strong bonds. All branches of the military have their own traditions, uniform, travel opportunities and pride that make them unique.

Civilian lives can be just as fulfilling, but they’re not as documented publicly as the lives of servicemen and women.


Is civilian life better than military life? Like any life changes, people experience the difficult transition when joining the military and after leaving the military. This also happens in a civilian’s life when starting a new job and retiring from it completely.

Some ex-military actually enjoyed their entire stay in the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps or Navy. Others didn’t. It’s the same for civilians – some people led a lifetime with a job they loved, while others didn’t.

There is a glaring difference between military and civilian life. But, whether civilian life is better than military life, and vice versa, will depend on a person’s experience, mindset and preferences.

If you’re just deciding whether to commit to a military lifestyle or not, this guide should help you get a better set of expectations and make an informed decision.

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