What I Found Interesting and Unusual in the Pew Report

For Pioneer Day, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religious & Public Life released its report on Mormonism, based on responses to its 2007 Religious Landscape Survey. I was surprised that the initial coverage was so mundane, but when I read the report, so many details were fascinating!

The press coverage of the report has either looked at Mormons fears about Hollywood, or the fact that Mormons are the most conservative of religious traditions. BORING! Tell me something that I didn’t know already.

In fact, the report says a lot that I didn’t know already. For those that don’t want to read through the report itself, I’ve pulled out, and listed below, a lot of the results that I found particularly interesting or unexpected:

Demographic information

  • Mormons are younger than the adherents of most other religions (only Hinduism and Islam are younger). What surprised me is that this is NOT due to converts, who, the survey found, are older than the U.S. population as a whole. I assume this means the youth comes from a higher birth rate.
  • Mormons are more likely to be married, be married to somone of the same faith, and have children. Only Hindus are more likely to be married, and to be married to someone of the same faith.
  • Mormons are less diverse than the general population, but not as bad as some other religious traditons (Jews, Orthodox Christians, mainline Protestants). In terms of proportion of a race that is Mormon vs. the proportion of that race in the general population, the largest gap, by far, is clearly among African Americans.
  • Mormons include fewer immigrants, but converts are more likely to be immigrants that the U.S. population as a whole. 14% of Mormon converts are immigrants compared to 12% of the population as a whole (may not be statistically significant difference).
  • Mormons are more educated and wealthier that the U.S. population as a whole. However, Mormon converts are not.
  • Mormon converts are more like the general population than those who grew up in the Church. However, they still are more likely to be married and have children than the general population.

Religious Beliefs and Practices

  • Mormons are more certain about their beliefs. We’re the only religious tradition to have 100% claim to believe in God. 90% of Mormons say they absolutely believe in God (the rest believe, but are less certain). This same pattern appeared in questions about life after death and miracles.
  • Most Mormons don’t believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. 57% don’t, versus 35% who do believe in a literal interpretation. In comparison, of those in the general population of the U.S. who believe the Bible to be the word of God, more than half take it literally.
  • Home and religious schooling less likely among Mormons. In U.S. 15% of the general population either home school or send their children to religious schools. Among Mormons, just 6% do.
  • Missionary efforts less frequent, but more likely among Mormons. We are far behind groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses when it comes to how many Mormons try to share the gospel weekly. But only 24% never try to share the gospel. Among Mormons, Utahns are less likely to share the gospel than those who live elsewhere.
  • Mormons retain converts as good or better than most. 70% of those who grew up Mormon stay in the Church. Half of those convert to another religion, the rest end up with no religion.
  • Mormons most likely to believe that religion solves problems. Just 3% completely agree with the statement “religion causes more problems than it solves,” fewer than any other religious tradition.
  • More education leads to stronger belief among Mormons. This is the opposite of the general population of the U.S.
  • The unmarried are less faithful among Mormons. Those who are not married are less likely to say they attend Church weekly, pray regularly and less likelty to believe that religion is important.

Social and Political Views

  • Significantly fewer Mormons are Republican outside of the West. In Utah 69% of Mormons are Republican or lean Republican. Outside of the West, just 55% are Republican.
  • Mormons less strident about Abortion than Evangelicals. Following the Church’s lead, members say abortion should be illegal in most, but not all cases. Just 9% want it outlawed all the time, versus 25% of evangelicals.
  • Mormons are strongly anti-evolution. 75% said evolution is NOT the best explanation for human life. I find this odd because from what I’ve seen the Church’s statements have focused on the fact that God is behind the creation of man, not how he did it.
  • Mormons are evenly split on Church involvement in politics. Again, the Church’s position  seems pretty clear — it can get involved whenever it thinks it should (statements at election time are about endorsing individual candidates and political parties, not the Church’s position on issues). I should also note that this survey was taken in 2007, before the Proposition 8 battle.
  • Mormons support stricter environmental laws. 55% to 36%.
  • Mormons are not isolationist. A majority say U.S. should be active in world affairs, the opposite of the U.S. population as a whole.
  • Mormons favor diplomacy over military strength. Half say diplomacy works better, and 37% say military strength is more important.


I should note that the Pew report seems like it was well done. They surveyed more than 35,000 in the U.S. to get their results, and ended up with 581 who identified as Mormon. But that includes some members of the Community of Christ and various fundamentalist and other non-LDS groups. The report says these are just 4%, or 21-25 of the 581 Mormons.

46 comments for “What I Found Interesting and Unusual in the Pew Report

  1. “Home and religious schooling less likely among Mormons. In U.S. 15% of the general population either home school or send their children to religious schools. Among Mormons, just 6% do.”

    I wish they had separated these out: my guess is that private schooling rates are way lower (because Mormons are cheap and wary of religious schools) but homeschooling rates are somewhat higher (for reasons I won’t go into).

  2. You found interesting a lot of the same things that I did on the post on my blog. I focus mostly on the things that disturb me and found it especially striking that less conservative members tend to be less active. I also found it striking that there has been an increase in members in the younger generation believing that their faith is the only true way to salvation AND that there is only one correct way to practice the faith.

  3. I find the idea that Mormons are less likely to home school interesting. I suspect, like Julie, that if it were counted separately from private schools, it might be higher.

    Also, I find it interesting that, for all the emphasis our church puts on missionary work, our missionary work is not significantly higher than other religions.

    I also have to admit I am surprised that only 55% of those outside of the west are Republican. Does that make 45% Democrat or are a large part Independent? Where are all these people? I hear very few people at church who say they are Democrat. Are they afraid to talk about it? Or are they less active, as symphonyofdissent’s comment seems to indicate?

  4. I live in Davis County, Utah, which is not exactly a Democratic stronghold. I rarely hear members say they are Democrats. However, I often hear members say they are “best-candidate-for-the-job” independents. Salt Lake County would be different.

    It is worth mentioning that in 1992 Ross Perot got a higher share of the vote in Utah than in any other state, more than Bill Clinton (27%, with Clinton at 24%, with G.H. Bush at 43%).

  5. I was stunned that only 23% of Mormons agreed that “My faith should adjust beliefs and practices in light of new circumstances.”

    Isn’t “new circumstances” what we always cite as the reason we need prophets and revelation? Isn’t the 9th article of faith still fundamental to Mormonism?

  6. The evolution thing doesn’t really surprise me. I think there is some subtlety that the phrasing of the question glosses over (Assuming it is phrased the way the answers are reported “75% said evolution is NOT the best explanation for human life.”).

    I’m certain that the vast majority of LDS would agree with the statement that “God did it, and he might have used evolution.” Fewer would agree if you said ‘probably’ instead of ‘might have.’ So in that way God is the *most* correct answer even if evolution is still correct.

    I also think LDS are prone to draw a distinction between human life and other life. Most LDS people that I know take it at face value that animals and other species evolved just the way biologists say. However many are inclined to believe that God did something different with Humans.

    So since the question focuses on human life, and asks for the very *best* explanation (the one we’re most sure of) lots of LDS are going feel constrained to say that evolution is not the best explanation even if they do think that evolution is a pretty good or even highly likely explanation.

  7. #4 I believe that one of the reasons we are not agressive missionaries is because other religions give outspoken, missionary oriented people a bad name. Down to earth Mormons do not want to be associated with them. New converts do not seem to have this problem.

  8. symphonyofdisent (2), I didn’t see where the “that there is only one correct way to practice the faith” comes from in the survey report.

    But I do agree with you that those items are a little disturbing.

  9. Stephanie (3), I don’t see how separating out the home schooled from the religiously schooled will make either number “higher” — I think you meant that Mormons might be higher than the general public if you only look at home schooling. I do agree with Julie (1) and you that these should have been divided out — if nothing else because Mormons aren’t as likely to send their kids to the religious schools of another religion, and have comparatively few religious schools.

    BUT, I was surprised that home schooling is so low. Even if 6% is ALL home schooling, somehow it has a higher profile in Mormonism, IMO.

  10. Left Field (6), I think you are right. IMO, this question is a bit ambiguous for Mormons, because we aren’t sure if they are talking about matching society simply to be “modern” (which comes through in the context of the report) or changing because the Lord would have us change.

    I suspect that the question about “my faith is the one true faith leading to eternal life” is similarly ambiguous. We always allow the possibility that those following other faiths who haven’t had sufficient opportunity to embrace our beliefs can still reach eternal life by accepting it in the hereafter. Given this, I might also say that my faith isn’t the only path to eternal life.

  11. Kim (8), yes, that is a possible explanation. But given all those studies that say Mormons are healthier and live longer, I suspect birth rate is a better explanation.

  12. The Pew Report may not capture the concentrated timing of Mormon missionary efforts. It’s probably correct that we’re similar to other religions in missionary outreach–except for 18-24 months of our lives when it’s 24/7.

  13. Peter (9), I think there was a little mix up in your reference to comment #4 — which is actually addressing why Democrats aren’t as vocal at Church.

    BUT, you may be right that we don’t want to be associated with the JWs and others. [Although, I suspect we an’t really escape it, given the reactions I see in various forums on the Internet.]

    Still, this does imply that we don’t find ways to open up and share the gospel as frequently as we could (and as others do). I suspect we let ourselves off the hook a bit more than we should. The statistics also imply that if we could get more members to leave Utah and live where Mormons aren’t a majority, more sharing would happen.

    However, I don’t think that’s likely to happen — nor can I say what other changes might happen as a result. [Would more go inactive as a result — without pressure from neighbors and the surrounding culture?]

  14. Jonathan (16), that’s not how I read the report. While I agree that the Pew report isn’t capturing LDS full-time missionary effort, it does indicate that mormons report that they share the gospel more than most other religions. The frequency just isn’t weekly — its more monthly or annually, which is much less frequent than the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example.

    So, we’re better than other religions in this area, just not as frequent in sharing the gospel as JWs.

  15. It would be interesting to pose those same survey questions to those here on the bloggernacle and see how they compare.

  16. It is pretty well established from medical studies (not polls) over the last three decades that active Mormons tend to have significant statistically less heart disease, lung cancer, and other illnesses related to lifestyle, and greater longevity because of that. Thus, the distribution curve of Mormon populations in each age group not only has a high left hand wing at younger ages, but also a thicker tail off into the older groups. The fact that the Mormon population’s average age as a whole skews younger than other religions is remarkable because it has to counterbalance that longevity; it would appear that, if only people under 50 were being counted, the proportion of youthful Mormons would be even higher. While Mormons have been following national trends in terms of marriage at a later age and smaller numbers of children, they started from a baseline of younger marriage and more children, so that even with the changes Mormons still have more marriages, more families with children, and more kids per family.

    It is clear that some of the questions asked by Pew were designed with certain assumptions about categories of conventional beliefs, which don’t take into account the distinct, atypical views of Mormonism. wqe are not A or B, but often C, a choice not offered on a typical survey. The survey noted that Mormons are among the strongest religions in affirming belief the Bible is “the word of God”, even as some 57% of Mormons don’t take it “literally”. That directly reflects the stance of the Articles of Faith, that the Bible is affirmatively “the word of God” but only “as far as it is translated correctly”. If the question had asked about whether the Bible was “inerrant”, my guess is that an even higher percentage of LDS would say “No.” Being familiar with the process by which the Book of Mormon, D&C and Pearl of Great Price became scripture, Mormons are much more conscious of issues of the difficulties in translating revelation into a written text, and of translating from one language to another, and see the ultimate authority and sovereignty as inhering in the God who oversees the production of scripture, not in the text that records revelation, and even more not in human interpretations that tell us what figurative passages “really mean”, such as the Young Earth Creationist claim that the Bible says the earth is only 6,000 years old, something that is not “literally” found anywhere in the text.

    The question about “evolution” has a similar problem. Textbook discussions about “evolution” shift without warning between the simplest meaning–change in living species over time–to the claim that all changes in species are due to differential survival and reproduction, i.e. natural selection. Several of Charles Darwin’s colleagues in the promotion of evolution also did not think natural selection alone was a sufficient explanation for certain observed facts, such as the qualitative difference in cognitive abilities between humans and apes. Wallace and others since have argued that human intelligence is so far beyond what is needed for survival that it represents what appears to be a profligate waste of resources that could have been invested in better survival through greater strength, speed, etc. But because the most vocal advocates for “evolution” have insisted that it must be an atheist evolution, with no tinkering allowed by intelligent aliens or supernatural beings, when used without qualifiers, most people think “evolution” always entails “by natural selection”–even though other processes, like genetic drift, and small changes in developmental genes that produce large changes in body plans (“evo devo”), seem now to be more significant in creating new biological features. If the survey had carried an option like “God used evolution to create plants and animals”, there would probably be a lot of LDS support for that hypothesis.

  17. Katheryn (20), I’d like to do it, but I think we need permission from the Pew Center (I’d assume that the survey instrument is copyright), and a bit of time to put it together (there are more than 60 questions, and some get asked only if another question is answered in a particular way).

    It would be very interesting if it could be pulled off.

  18. #14: The question about the one true faith is probably also ambiguous to other Christians. Does “my faith” mean Christianity or does it mean the United Methodist Church?

  19. “I also have to admit I am surprised that only 55% of those outside of the west are Republican. Does that make 45% Democrat or are a large part Independent? Where are all these people?”

    In my ward, obviously:) A lot of us have been saying for years that outside of the intermountain west, LDS are much like their neighbors.

    My guess is that the sample size did not support estimates for the other categories, and that’s why they were lumped into “non-Republican.”

  20. “In my ward, obviously:) A lot of us have been saying for years that outside of the intermountain west, LDS are much like their neighbors.” (#24)

    It is even more local than that, I think. If forced to guess I’d say that my Denver inner city ward is either evenly divided or the Dems have a small edge; in the suburban wards in our stake, just down the road, the split is about the same as Utah, i.e., overwhelmingly Republican.

    Of course, in my ward the Dems may have cowed the perhaps more numerous Republicans into relative silence, but that would be noteworthy too.

    The relatively even split and the associated mystery is good for all, however, because nobody talks about politics except most tangentially, and that is a very good thing.

  21. Kent, I’m glad you’re giving the Pew report some attention. A couple of my own thoughts…

    The Pew used survey data, so the numbers represent self-identified Mormons and not actual Mormon membership information. This means that the sample will be biased towards active Mormons and undercount the characteristics of those with membership records but who do not actively participate. Depending on how a person wants to define the set of Mormons, the Pew stats will be either good or misleading. The Pew church attendance stats, for example, show much higher church attendance rates (76% attend weekly) than those repored in quarterly reports sent by wards to SLC (probably more like 40% in the USA).

    Comparing Mormons with the general population is neat because sometimes it makes Mormons look good (healthier, more educated, etc.). However, it is usually more instructive to compare Mormons with other subsets of the population, such as evangelicals, JWs, etc. Whenever the Pew report does that, it is always more informative, and we see that Mormons differ less from very religious people of certain other faiths than they do with the general US population. As one person I know said, reporting a distribution is always more informative than reporting a mean. I wish the report had done more of this.

    #24. A non-trivial minority of Mormons (more than 10% if I remember correctly) do not affiliate with either the Republicans or Democrats.

    #14. I agree about the one true faith question. Orthodox Mormons could answer that question either way given our doctrine of proxy work for the dead. This question does not adequately get at what may be interesting in Mormons’ beliefs. But this is something hard to do in a large national survey. As it stands, I think that Pew statistic is difficult to interpret.

  22. Naismith (24): My guestimate (based on the number of independents (non Republican and non Democrat) overall — 13%), is that the Democrats outside the west must be between 25% and 30%, leaving 15% to 20% independent.

    But the reports don’t let us know.

    One upside is that the Pew Research Center eventually releases their datasets for anyone to download, once they have done all the reports they can from that data. At that point, it may be possible to examine the data and get further information.

  23. Why do you think this is??

    # The unmarried are less faithful among Mormons. Those who are not married are less likely to say they attend Church weekly, pray regularly and less likely to believe that religion is important.

    My guess is that many married people have kids, and parents with kids are concerned about their kids being righteous, and the concern is assuaged by church attendance. Church attendance makes it more likely that you would perceive yourself as praying regularly and that your religious practices are important.

  24. ceejay (28), yes, that and our emphasis on marriage puts a certain number of unmarried on the fringe. In some cases, it may also be a matter of the unmarried wanting to keep their options open, in case they marry outside the faith.

  25. ““Mormons also tend to be strict interpreters of their own religion. A majority (54%) says there is only one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion, with 43% saying there is more than one way. Among the affiliated population overall, more than two-thirds (68%) say there is more than one way.”

    That’s where I got the notion of members believing there is only one true way to interpret the teachings of the faith.

  26. I found a few things interesting:

    1.7% of the respondents identified themselves as Mormon. I find that number to be amazingly low, and even depressing after some reflection. After over one hundred years of intense missionary activity, we are still comming in under 2% of the population. I know that others might suggest that the “real” number is about double that. It has to do with those who were baptised but no longer identify themselves as Mormon. Still, no matter what the number is (1.5 to 3%) the number is very low and perhaps could be a basis for a re-evaluation of our missionary program. This is especially true when you remember that in the Great Basin the number is 50% to even 95% in some pockets, so that in most large areas, the number is correspondingly low. For example, in my Massachusetts town, there are about 50 Mormons in a town of 17,000, or about 0.3%. So after years and years of missionary effort, we are less than 0.5%

    The very high association of Mormonism with the Republican party is also discouraging to me. For me it means that large sections of American society won’t give the church a careful look because of our political positions. The Roman Catholics seem to me to be as socially conservative as we are, but I think that they are not so tightly associated with any party. I don’t think that they have to publish a disclaimer before every election because it is evident that they aren’t associated with just one party or the other. The two issues are related. In Massachusetts, I believe that our high profile association with the Republican party is indeed a barrier to missionary work. There are many people here who might be interested in the church, but we can’t know because of the low esteem given to the Republican party here.

  27. Just another thought about the Republican Party thing. It has been suggested that Mormons are “like their neighbors” in political affiliation. My experience is contrary to that. Based on bumper stickers, political contributions, comments made in the foyer, etc, I would have to say that our congregation in the Boston suburbs is highly (butnot universally) Republican. This is very contrary to the voting patterns of the area where Democrats run often unopposed in elections (think the opposite of Orem). I have had many Mormons make comments to me that clearly are based on the assumption that we are all Republicans. I have never heard such a comment that would assume that we, like our neighbors, are mostly of the Democratic Party.

  28. “Mormons retain converts as good or better than most. 70% of those who grew up Mormon stay in the Church. Half of those convert to another religion, the rest end up with no religion.”

    I think this is misstated. I assume this came from the “Retention of Childhood Members” stat. Mormons who are raised in the church do tend to stay with the church, but it’s no secret that we do a terrible job of retaining adult converts.

  29. Richard (33), you are right. My fault. The report does NOT say anything about how well we retain converts. It does say that we retain 70% of those who are raised Mormon.

  30. Steve H (31), I’ve never heard any claim that we are near 3% of the U.S. population. We’ve reached about 2% in the past decade or so, according to the Church’s count (which includes inactive members who no longer identify as Mormon).

    I am thinking about doing a post that looks at this issue in more depth, since I think that this poll, combined with the Church’s counts, may yield some interesting information.

    As for your comments about Mormons being perceived as Republican and conservative, I whole-heartedly agree. I suspect that if you removed those who are transplants from the Intermountain West, the political profile of Mormons outside of the Mormon corridor would look similar to the rest of the country, or perhaps only slightly more conservative.

    I do think your idea that the perception that all Mormons are ultra-conservative and republican hurts our missionary efforts very interesting, and I suspect it has at least an element of truth to it, if it isn’t completely true.

  31. Schooling
    Homeschooling- I really don’t know many homeschooling families. I think there may be more homeschooling middle class married families that some of you associate with. I think there may be pockets of Mormon homeschooling culture. Out of all the families in my ward (and the few I know in the stake) I am aware of only one homeschooling family in the neighboring ward. Out of the Mormons I know accross the country I do know a few homeschoolers. However, I don’t know any homeschooling families who are single parent homes, for instance. Definitely no one around here does private religious schools (and no one I know accross the country). Mormons usually can’t afford that for the number of kids we have.
    I agree that “God” is the best explanation, not evolution. I think many people would have to answer that way.
    Education and Income
    I think the post is overstates it a little when it says “Mormons are more educated and wealthier that the U.S. population as a whole.” The difference in education is more likely to have some college but not more likely to have a degree. The differences seem to be limited like less likely to be low income, much more likely to be middle class ($50K-$100K)but not more likely to be high income. I find it interesting that we are a middle class religion (for those raised). I wonder if is it marriage that heavily tilts us toward that bracket? Marriage tends to make men earn a little more since they feel that responsibility (I think there are stats about that), plus it combines two incomes, even Mormon moms tend to work at least part-time for much of their lives. If it is marriage then we have to remember there are two adults living on that income, not one.

  32. “I suspect that if you removed those who are transplants from the Intermountain West, the political profile of Mormons outside of the Mormon corridor would look similar to the rest of the country, or perhaps only slightly more conservative.”

    I don’t agree. I think the conservative tone at meetings tends to attract like-minded people, and so this has been somewhat self-perpetuating, especially in suburban wards. Also, it’s harder to winnow out “those from the Intermountain West”, as there are plenty of us (myself included) who had a parent or grandparent born there but never actually lived there, besides maybe for college.

  33. “Out of all the families in my ward (and the few I know in the stake) I am aware of only one homeschooling family in the neighboring ward. Out of the Mormons I know accross the country I do know a few homeschoolers.”

    Then you aren’t living where I’ve lived. I’ve been in at least one ward where the homeschoolers ran elders’ quorum.

  34. John Taber (37), I’m also like you. My parents were born in Utah, but I grew up in Maryland. I wasn’t including those in our category as “transplants from the Intermountain West.” I mean only those who moved out of the Intermountain West as adults.

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t have much of a reason to adopt the conservatism that I see in the Intermountain West.

    Regardless, the Pew report says that Mormons outside of the West are less Republican and less conservative. Whether removing the transplants makes a difference or not, we would have to see from the numbers or from another survey.

  35. “The unmarried are less faithful among Mormons. Those who are not married are less likely to say they attend Church weekly, pray regularly and less likely to believe that religion is important.”

    Having been in the +30 Single Adult world the last 17 years, I know that many valiant souls endure and continue, regardless of marital status. ON THE OTHER HAND, there are over a hundred singles that show up on my ward list but never show up at the church building. At the single adult dances, everyone has “their story,” sometimes disturbing ones that make you want to run!

    Welcome to the Island of Misfit toys!

  36. Most Mormons don’t believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. 57% don’t, versus 35% who do believe in a literal interpretation.

    This is an interesting result that I would like to see explored. Considering that the standard Mormon belief is that the first man walked out the Garden of Eden circa 4,000 BC, that there was a global flood, and that there was a single language on the earth until the tower of Babel, one would think that would put most Mormons in the “literalist” camp.

  37. US Census Bureau numbers put the population of the US at
    With the Pew numbers at 1.7% that puts the US self described Mormon population at 5,169,015 million.

    The current church numbers for the US says 5,974,041

    Even accounting for some definitional differences, and other “mormon” groups, it is simply shocking to me that such a high percent of Mormons would self identify to Pew.

    Do a high percent of “in-active” members still identify as Mormon? If so they how do so many of the activity numbers, church attendance, prayer, bible, missionary work etc come out so high?

  38. As for Evolution –
    I believe that the there is defiantly a type of evolution that happens but not as science says the man came from the primordial-goo.
    God placed Adam & Eva upon the earth & commanded them to pro-create – which they did and they produced a delightful offspring. Their offspring then cover the pre-flood land, we know the story of Cain & Able and their children/offspring.
    The wicked evolved into a somewhat hideous or non-delightsome people [just like the offspring of Lamen & Lemuel in the BofM] or I believe as into the Cave-men & etc. As time went by some of them again found God and they and their offspring evolved [as moved upon by the Holy Ghost] into a delightsome person/people.
    When we lose a belief in God we also lose the blessing of the Holy Ghost and we evolve/evolution into a dark-spirited person.

  39. DR Daines (44), the point isn’t what you believe, its what the survey showed that Mormons in general believed, vs. the official Church position on the issue (which is that no doctrine indicates how God created man, whether by evolution or otherwise)

  40. I think Mormonism is more strict with the way Mormons live their lives than what they believe. I have found that as long as I make it clear I am only representing my personal opinion and not the opinion of the Mormon church, I can almost believe anything. When I start to do things that are against the church that is where they are more strict or narrow.

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