The State of the Women

Sherrie Johnson, a sociologist at BYU, recently presented findings of a study concerning the satisfaction levels of LDS women. I haven’t seen the study, but there is a Deseret News article about it here.

There’s a lot to think about here. Probably the one that surprised me most was:

“Sixty-two percent of the [female returned missionaries] group and 52 percent of the [female LDS but no mission] group reported being “very happy” with their marriages, compared with 38 percent of [national sample of non-LDS] women. Yet fewer of the latter group reported being “very unhappy.”
When that category was combined with “unhappy,” 11 percent of [LDS women, no mission], 7 percent of RM and 6 percent of [non-LDS] fell into that category. Additional research is necessary to determine why a larger percentage of LDS women are unhappy than the national group, she said.”

I would have expected more women to be happy in their marriages; perhaps I am just projecting? If we would get my ward to be honest, would half of the women really say that they are not ‘very happy’ in their marriages? You certainly wouldn’t think this from looking around (seriously, though, what do you expect to tell from looking around?). Is this a problem? Should we expect more women to be happy in their marriages? Or do we need to reread President Hinckley’s oft-repeated “most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough” etc., and quit having such high expectations? (Is it possible that women would consider themselves more happy if the Church image of blissful Temple marriage wasn’t making them feel that real life didn’t measure up?)

Also from the article:

“Measures of depression showed the LDS women experienced symptoms associated with depression — including feeling bothered, not eating, feeling blue, unable to concentrate, fearful, restless sleep, lonely, sad — on average about one day a week, while the national group experienced them 1.5 days per week.”

Maybe I am out of touch with reality in my little suburban enclave of reasonably well-off, over-educated, at-home LDS moms, but symptoms of depression one day per week (even if that is lower than the national average) seems huge to me. Again, maybe I am just projecting since this isn’t my experience?

31 comments for “The State of the Women

  1. Feeling bothered? Unable to concentrate? Restless sleep? Lonely? What woman at home all day with small children doesn’t experience at least one of these very generic symptoms everyday? Alot of these sound very normal and common to me. I wonder if the survey wasn’t somehow skewed by young, busy mothers who experience these things all the time, versus older women with older or grown children who do not wake them up in the middle of the night and require all of their attention during the day.

    On a tangential point, I have been told that prescription rates of prosac and other antidepressant medications are very high in Utah as compared to the rest of the nation, leading some to believe that LDS women suffer more depression because they place such high expectations on themselves because of the church.

    I wonder if anti-depressant prescription rates in Utah are high because LDS women don’t get their “medication” from the streetcorner or local liquor store. Perhaps life really is just hard, and prescription mediation is not considered a sin.

  2. i think you have it Thom. If the survey respondents were younger child-rearing age women of course the number are going to be skewed. I remember that time in my life as one of constant turmoil. I was constantly comparing myself to other BYU married housing residents and falling short in various places. Needless to say the places where I exceeded the standard was left behind (by me).

    There is a HUGE difference between unsettled, bored or off-centered to being clinically depressed. What I have found with studies is that a researcher is trying to prove a theory, This can and does skew a survey from the onset. Overall most women can go through the gambit of emotions from month to month. Most of us find ourselves more or less satisfied and usually don’t evaluate the reasoning behind it until it has been several months of no change. And the happier we are the less likely we are to do an evaluation at all. The bigger question to be asked is “Is your level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction an ongoing theme in your life?” or possibly “how long have you felt these feelings?” But I guess those aren’t questions for a survey. They are therapy questions.

    The next big question is “Are the men out there happy?”

  3. Where is the mystery?

    Gospel living brings happiness.

    The Gospel also creates higher expectations, thus…a hubby who fails to be “active” will almost certaintly make a female RM (presumably spiritually active) and/or just an active non-RM LDS woman EXTREME grief.

    I don’t think there is much gender difference in this area of religious grief over gospel-living. I was married, briefly, and my former spouses lack of attention to the Gospel caused me fairly unbearable angst.

  4. Thom, I think you’re onto something. If ever there were a recipe for creating depression, it is the isolated stay-at-home mom with young children–basic things like sleep and bathing take a backseat to the needs of your children, nevermind the known depression-fighters of good nutrition, exercise, regular social outlets. To the extent that the Church continues to encourage this model of mothering while “the world” has moved to a model where most mothers have work (with its social contacts, regular reinforcement of self-esteem in the form of a paycheck, etc.) outside the home, I think that young Mormon mothers may be more isolated than they used to be and at least potentially more susceptible to depression. However, in places where Church membership is geographically concentrated enough that Mormon moms are able to connect for playgroups and other social outlets, the Church structure itself combats this tendency.

  5. 1). gamut

    2). We’re a smug bunch, aren’t we. No one seems to think the extra numbers of ‘very happy’ responses need any explanation.

  6. Thom: like you, I have long suspected that rates of LDS prescription drug use seem high because our people “self-medicate” at a lower rate than the general US population. Does anyone know of a study that sheds light on this?


  7. So far all the comments here have discussed the anti-depressant issue (yawn) and the idea that young mothers might not rate themselves “very happy” for a variety of reasons mostly to do with the nature of life at home with toddlers. But, no one has really discussed the fact that only 52% of the women surveyed said that they were “very happy” with their *marriages*. The suggestion has been made that these women simply have unrealistic expectations of marriage and perhaps we need to change that delusion of a picture-perfect, totally fulfilling Temple marriage that still haunts Young Women’s manuals. While I think this is a good place to begin, I think the Church needs to do much more to address this issue. It honestly makes me weepy to think about the amount of money, time, and effort that the Church has spent and will spend in the future fighting gay marriage. What if that much money, time and effort were spent to save Temple marriages instead? Many women (and I think men as well) are unhappy (or not very happy) in their marriage not simply because they had unrealistic expectations of marriage (although that certainly might also contribute). Other reasons might include the fact that members of the church get married younger and start having children sooner than the national average (My brother who just turned 22 announced his engagement this week–this is almost unheard of outside the Church). Still, I think the reasons go beyond these statistics. The Church provides various kinds of support for various kinds of difficulties (financial being the most obvious). But, there is little support for troubled marriages. If you are a good member of the Church then you aren’t supposed to have difficulties in your marriage, right? President Kimball said that any worthy member could be happily married to any other worthy member, so what’s the problem? Last Spring in General Conference someone gave a talk (I can’t now remember who) about a bishop who got a call from a sister who was just about to leave her husband and children and run away with some other man. The talk goes on to make other points, but I couldn’t help wondering where the woman’s friends were, where her visiting teachers were, where the Relief Society president was long before the situation got to this point? Of course there are appropriate things to discuss with others, and other things that are inappropriate to discuss–out of loyalty to one’s spouse, but I think that we generally feel the need to pretend to be perfect in this area even if there are serious problems. One such serious problem that is beginning to get some attention from Salt Lake, particularly in the Men’s sessions of conference is domestic violence. Domestic abuse happens in the Church, even in temple marriages. There are other less serious issues that need to be addressed too. Gambling, for example. I know several LDS women whose husbands gamble for “fun” on a somewhat regular basis. But, simply addressing these issues is not enough. More active work than discourse needs to be done. Imagine if all the money being spent to fight against gay marriage in an attempt to “save marriage” was directed to really saving Temple marriages in the Church? The money could go for marriage counseling, help with debt management, even toward babysitting so husbands and wives could have more time together alone on a regular basis. These aren’t very good examples of options, but I think coming up with better ones should be a regular item of business on the First Presidency’s meeting agenda.

    Of course some of the reasons that LDS women might not be “very happy” in their marriages might have to do with the same reasons that women in the larger society are not “very happy” in their marriages. Life is busy–there’s more to do every day than can possibly done. Women’s roles, status, position in society is hotly debated–women often feel like they are at war with themselves in setting priorities regarding family and work and often feel like they do battle with other women in justifying those decisions once made.

    I just realized that this has become a long and rambling post. Sorry!

  8. Melissa, I’d invite you to post that comment also over at the related BCC thread; your ideas are fantastic.

    Obviously, unrealistic expectations are part and parcel of training young women that temple marriage is the apex of their existence. We need to think of ways to teach youth (and adults) that while the covenants involved are the most sacred, and the sealing power is incredible, that underneath it all is essentially a garden-variety marriage relationship that requires attention and care like any other.

  9. I once dated a woman who was very eager to get married, because “then I won’t have any problems anymore.” She viewed dating and single life as hurdles to be overcome, and marriage as the finish line, after which the race would be over, the medal won.

    I explained to her that I thought marriage would be a lot of work. “Yes, but we’ll be _together_ and everything will be just fine!” was the reply.

    This was not the woman I eventually married. That attitude probably wasn’t the deciding factor in the break up, but it was certainly a contributor, since one of the deciding factors was my general doubts about her ability to deal with reality.

  10. Reminds me of a joke I heard. “Marriage will be the end of all your troubles.” They just don’t tell you which end.

    (As an aside, no troubles in my marriage and I think problems actually get over-emphasized. Especially the constant narrative about how hard the first year is)

  11. On a related note, I have noticed that on internet bulletin boards where young LDS mothers hang out, some of the most common questions that come up are variations on the following: “why isn’t my husband the priesthood holder that he should be? — I have to drag him out of bed on Sunday mornings”; “My husband is supposed to be the provider, but he has been out of work for three months — how can encourage him to take his priesthood responsibility to provide for his family seriously?”; “I caught my husband looking at internet porn — I am afraid that we do not have the priesthood in our home anymore, and I am worried about me and my children.” These are common sorts of problems and human foibles that everyone has to deal with, but the women who are posting definitely have an ideal in mind of “perfect priesthood man” that is not being lived up to, vs. “fellow flawed human being”. I feel sorry for their husbands. People tend to put up sort of a false front on Sundays; hopefully, by talking to each other anonymously on the Internet, people will find out that they are not alone, and maybe develop more realistic expectations.

  12. I hope you still think you did better.
    Lots of young people in the church go into marriage thinking it will be a bed of roses.

    I agree with Steve “Obviously, unrealistic expectations are part and parcel of training young women that temple marriage is the apex of their existence.”

    Should we as a church be more realistic when we teach young people about marriage. Tell them things like “in a few years when the romance wears off it will almost be like living with your brother execpt you have to share your bed with him.” Just Kidding.
    On the same note are you ever really told how much work having kids will be. Everyone tells you it will be great but how about all of the sleepless nights, doctor visits, and inconviences. They are worth it but I was never warned.

    I think LDS mothers would do better if they did not feel guilty when they don’t watch their children everyday all day. I know a mom who has a nanny for her kids 2-3 times a week all day. She takes those days and runs errands and does thing just for mom. People in her ward always comment on how she is not being a good mother. Is it reall expected of LDS women to be duct taped to their kids 24/7 to be a good mom. No wonder most of Utah is depressed. As a mom I need breaks often.

  13. Most = 48%?

    More resources in the temple marriage preparation area and/or increased intervention…sound great to me. However, I wonder if siphoning off resources to preserve the institution of marriage/society as a whole is the right question. Sure, we can give up that battle…and focus in-ward; but that seems somewhat ‘selfish’ as a whole. And why not do both?

    Expectations? How about a temple marriage prep class? 1. You and your spouse will get in fights. 2. Try not to hurt each other too much. 3. Forgive, forget & show forth an increase of love afterwards. 4. You still have to be loving, even if the other is being intolerable. 5. etc…

  14. Wait- what are the results? 11% say very unhappy = and 52% say very happy.

    How many say “happy” or “reasonably happy” or “sort of unhappy”?

    What were the degrees on this Likert scale (or was it conducted on a Likert Scale)?

    What if the other 37% said “kinda happy”? What does that do to the argument?

  15. I disagree completely with the idea that the church needs to be more realistic in teaching Young Women. That is a “babysitter” mentality. I am the parent of my daughters. I have accepted the responsibility to teach them about life. It upsets me to hear comments that an institution whether it be the church or the school system userp my authority as a parent.

    The Gospel is an ideal. Is it wrong to expect the church to teach in ideals? Is it wrong that parents don’t do everything they can do as parents to ensure the success of their children? Call me old fashioned but I don’t want my daughters to hear anything but that they should be able to expect their marriage to last forever.

    I remember my mom being paid a compliment when I was married in the temple. They said something like “Congrats Mom, you did a great job” and her answer back was “Not until each of my grandchildren are married in the temple will I be able to count myself as successful.” That’s what it’s all about. It’s vesting. It’s caring enough to make it through, to endure to the end. My mom has all married grandchildren married in the temple. Still has 9 to go. I’m not sure she’ll live to see it, but we all know she’s committed to the cause. So it helps to be that way too.

    I am not trying to be snarky. I sometimes grow tired of hearing people wish we’d let the world in. We have enough of the world around us. Let’s keep the Gospel as an ideal in our lives.

  16. cooper–

    I may be misinterpreting, but I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the YW should be prepared for the dissolution of their marriages. What they may need to hear more of is that marriage can be a lot of work and that there is a big difference between the honeymoon and the next 60 years. Temple marriage is often presented as the solution to all problems; maybe a more realistic emphasis would be to present the Temple as a resource in the inevitable event of problems (to borrow from Carlfred Broderick).

  17. Possibly Julie. It’s just that I see and read comments that say things like, “young women need to be taught realistic values”. There is too much of the world surrounding them. They need to know that yes the Gospel is something they can cling to. As a Young Women’s president I never told my girls that they wouldn’t encounter difficulties in marriage or thet they needn’t plan to work outside the home. I think the church is addressing these problems and addressing them well. I just think we also need to understand the churches role is to be a support system not the ultimate instructor. If the church didn’t recognize the problems our youth are encountering would there be an arm of Social Services just for the youth?

    Parents are the people who should be teaching that temple marriages are hard work, and that life is disappointing at times. The church should support that yet set an ideal for each of us to reach for.

    Maybe being a convert slants my view of the church. I grew up in a family of chaos, life was never good and if you evaluated it for any length of time it was not much worth living. Alcohol & drug abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse, homelessness, debt, insecurity and hunger were the norms of my life. Can it be the ideals of the Gospel saved my life? I think so. It has also contributed a great deal to the lives of my family.

    So I will go off on a tangent occasionally, irrationally addressing subjects from an emotional side. Sorry guys.

  18. The Church does provide pre-temple wedding education. My stake in Utah offered a weekly institute class for the single adults in our stake and the neighboring stake; it was taught out of a white Church curriculum marriage prep book by a divorced family law lawyer who once taught marriage prep at BYU – no way could anyone who paid attention in that class have any expectation that marriage would be a “bed of roses”. Unfortunately, almost no one attended it.
    People are responsible for educating themselves about important steps like marriage – if they want to believe that love is like the movies show it, they will ignore anything that conflicts with the fairy tale until reality hits them in the face. I walked into marriage scared that it would be worse than it was…as a result, I’m quite pleasantly surprised :) What makes my marriage good (but not ecstatically happy) is living the gospel. We’ve only been married 2.5 yrs, no children yet, but we’ve never been really romantic. We’re just not the type. But we’re happy. And we don’t expect the fact that we’re married to take away life’s usual obstacles.
    Good luck to anyone out there facing disillusionment. In some ways, children from divorced families like myself are spared it…or maybe we just had it really early in life as we listened to our parents fight from our beds at night or saw parents agonize going into custody trials.
    Reality vs. dwelling on the ideal – not to hard to guess why in Church they go with the latter most of the time.

  19. Ok, here is where all are welcome to accuse me of double standards:

    Cath mentioned that “almost no one attended” the marriage prep class. My solution:

    The Church requires discussions before baptism (often characterized as a ‘sacrament’)

    The Church ‘requires’ (depending on your Stake there is a requirement or strongly encouraged emphasis I’ve been told) a temple prep course.
    (endowment not thought of as a sacrament; but for MOs is an exalting ordinance…so again, a ‘sacrament’)

    The Church should require marraige prep classes & impose a mandatory waiting period for those that want to get a Temple marriage.

    If Temple Marriage is such a big deal…then it would be helpful if the institutional church placed more requirements/helpful prepration before one can attempt such…much as not just everyone can go try & climb Mt. Everest.

    The Church could also require Divorce Preparation classes; i.e. where a couple who have decided to divorce have to go to a Stake taught class (or secular if it meets certain standards) to learn how it will affect them.

    I’ll admit I’m somewhat draconian, view divorce as a sin [maybe I’d make a better Catholic?], and think that Temple & Sacramental privileges should be with-held for spouses that abandon one another w/o Church approval (aka an official Church counsel on the subject).

    Ok…I’m ready. Let’r rip…

  20. Lyle,
    Notice that we’re fairly casual about all our commitments. You don’t have to do a heckuva lot to get baptized, even though your eternal soul is the bond you’re posting for the covenants you make. In fact, I think many of the arguments about prerequisites to baptism can be parallelled here. On the one hand, setting higher barriers to marriage might lead to a higher percentage of good marriages. On the other hand, it might discourage marriage or at least postpone it unnecessarily. There’s something to be said for the viewpoint that no amount of preparation is adequate to some trials, and that the best thing to do is very often to rush in and fend off the monsters as they come.

  21. Cooper,

    Not only do we share the same last name, but even the same convert background! I, too, grew up in a “dysfunctional” home environment, and learned how to be a husband and father by see everything NOT to do in a marriage and family. Conversion to the church surely saved me, too. (Is it possible that we are secretly twins? Spritual alter egos? Or maybe just manifestations of dual personality?).

    Anyway, I’ve been reading all the threads to this post and feel to add a few points. First, I wonder if much of the problem of having some LDS women be less than happy with their marriages is indeed cultural, but not in the way that we think. I wonder if this may be a uniquely AMERICAN phenomenon. The reason I say this, is because comparing what I saw during my mission in Italy, and my experience with my wife’s native Peru, plus constant contact with my wife’s acquaintences from all over Latin America, I have noticed that every culture seems to have its own particular difficulty in implementing the Gospel into married life.

    In Latin America, the big problem seems to be an overwhelming machismo, a combination of the worst elements of Spanish male pride and pagan (Aztec, Inca, Mayan, etc.) norms. A faithful LDS wife and mother is almost always a convert, or if she is not, her husband probably is. This means that she must expect here husband to swim against a veritable cultural current of anger (at the drop of a hat), false pride, alcohol, and adultery (which is almost viewed as a kind of unofficial polygamy in Latin countries). Due to genetic quirks, many Latin countries have many more women than men (my wife’s Peru is 70% female). Many women (my wife included, until she encountered me) decide they’d rather be single their whole lives than suffer a “marriage” to a man who drinks all his friends under the table and keeps impregnating every 15-year old girl in the neighborhood. That’s the non-member culture, but LDS have to live amongst this, and most there grew up in it before conversion. Incidentally, Latins marry just as young as we do, or younger.

    In Italy, I thought their culture had an interesting outlook: If a man was single and 30 years old, he was the perfect batchelor: He would have finished his mission and military service, have completed his degree, and been established in his profession. Now compare that to here, where in the church we think that same man must be “weird”! In Italy, many, many sisters in the church never marry, due to no available priesthood holders, and the committment to Gospel standards is more pronounced there between female and male members than any other place I have seen.

    I’ve taken a long way round to get to my point, but here it is, and we’ll use me as an example:

    I served a mission, attended college (never finished, went into sales and made more money than I would have with my teaching degree), and always strived to be a faithful member and a gentleman (I’m as imperfect as anyone else, but I’ve always tried to keep the standards, etc.). I’ve always had a fascination with the history and practice of Chivalry (kind of a life raft for me growing up in a constant storm as a child,Cooper), so I’ve always been the type to open doors, give women complements (honest ones), etc. I dated a lot of different women, some quite seriously, and a few came close to marriage. Yet, though I was TOLD by my girlfriends and female friends (girls who were just close friends)that I had looks, and faith, and made good money, etc.—I was thirty-three when I got married, and had to travel 7000 miles to Peru to find my soulmate. What is intersting here is that men I knew who were less active, obnoxious, rude, sexist, mean, immoral, etc., were often the same men the girls who “dropped” me ended up marrying, while many girls told me, “Gary, no girl wants to marry a guy like you, because you’re too nice, and you keep all the standards; girls want a guy they can change and save, and you’re already there, so you’re no challenge.” Have others seen this phenomenon, because I never saw it in Italy, or in Peru.

    Frankly, I often tell my wife than I thank the Lord that I never married an American. Why, because when I think of all the things my wife and I have experienced together, I chuckle that an American girl would have divorced me, whereas my “Peruvian Beauty” just took those things in stride, because of her cultural/experiential understanding of adversity. So, if some of those unhappy LDS women are feeling blue because they married a man they knew had serious faults because they wanted to “change” him, and they find him resisting “being changed”, I don’t feel sorry for them.

    I think this is a serious problem, even a kind of heresy, that seems to affect just Amnerican LDS women, this idea of “find the worst man you can that you can get through a temple recommend interview (or better yet, marry a non-member), and spend a lifetime “saving him””. Then, when the guy gets tired of pretences and start’s acting like himself, these women get upset. I don’t mean to imply this affects EVERY LDS wife who is unhappy, but I think this includes a great many. It makes me wonder about how we are teaching our Young Women and Primary girls. Anyone else notice this?

  22. Just a couple of things I should add to my last thread, which may focus a little more. My wife tells me that what attracted her to me right away was the fact that I was very up front with my church membership and how important my standards were to me (she was not a member at the time). The ironic thing is that this very quality was often “turned off” LDS girls I encountered here in the U.S. Along those same lines, my wife appreciated me being up front about my views on what I wanted in a marriage and home, and my asking her for her views. Again, this “turned off” LDS girls here in the States. So, I have to ask, are these LDS women that are unhappy with their marriages the type that never confronted their husband’s “bad points” during courtship? Never asked the serious questions before marriage? Hmmm…All through my single years, I just kept asking myself, every time I got dropped by a girl who then went for a guy who was a complete jerk, “What is wanted, here?” I never could figure it out, so I married a woman from another culture who loved me for what I was and what I tried to stand for. (I am still interested, also, in how men would respond to the survey.)

  23. GaryCooper – you never know maybe we are siblings (just kidding)! I do know I have a couple of siblings out there I have never met.(it was that bad)

    I do not participate in blogging to become healed. I only mentioned the childhood thing to point out that the church is there to be the ideal and to support parents. I am not looking to be “healed” or for anyone to feel my pain. I am a mature woman who has dealt with a less than stellar learning experience as a child and turned what I learned into a good stable environment. I have been married (in the temple) 29 years in May.

    I agree that there is a problem with the choices I have seen friends and even a sister make in the choice of a spouse. I don’t believe those choices can be laid at the feet of the church. The church is doing its best to meet the needs of the members. What is lacking is parents. I know that sounds like a pretty harsh judgement. However, as a YW President I was always amazed at the lack of support parents gave their young daughters. Even the Bishop of my ward would not attend YW events that were very important. Sometimes I think parents who have been married in the temple think their children will be saved by osmosis. Then when trouble comes along they want to say the church failed them. It is unfortunate.

    I think if we are truly honest with ourselves as women we will be able to see the dissatisfaction with ourselves and our marriages comes from within. Life is hard. decisions are hard. Living with the consequences of poor choices is hard. Maturity and some good soul searching, the occasionally talk with a professional for guidance help a lot to alleviate the problems most of us encounter.

    And GaryCooper – if you can come up with an answer to your question – write a book. Mothers and fathers of teenage and somewhat older daughters will buy it.

  24. The statistics make it sound like RM women are more likely to be “very unhappy” in marriage. Does anybody have a guess as to why this might be? My wife was a missionary, and it was on her mission that depression first reared its ugly head. One guess is this: tremendous effort is (was) expended to make the young men feel guilty enough to confess prior moral transgressions. This pressure bears on all missionaries, but particularly on sensitive types like my wife, and many begin to feel intense guilt for any imperfection.

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