Mormons in the US: A New Study

You can read the study itself here or a summary of it in the DN here.

What I thought was interesting:

–“According to the survey, 3.2 million Americans identified themselves as members of the LDS Church in 2008. Official LDS Church statistics indicate that number was actually about 5.9 million.”

–“young men in the Mormon Culture Region are defecting at substantially higher rates than young women, creating a growing gender imbalance and a surplus of Mormon women. In Utah, self-identified Mormon women outnumber men by a ratio of 3 to 2.”

–I thought it was interesting that the title of the DN article is “New study confirms many LDS stereotypes.”

–I know it is only in reference to how the Church counts members, but I smirked at the description of the church as “quite liberal.”

–The differences between members in the “Mormon Culture Region” and outside of it are interesting, especially the changing sex ratio.

UPDATE: Peggy Fletcher Stack reports on some serious flaws in the study here.

35 comments for “Mormons in the US: A New Study

  1. Tim
    December 15, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    I’d like to point out that the study itself indicates that the 3.2 million doesn’t include children, while the church numbers do include children. That’s pretty significant–I imagine that about 1/3 of all church members in the U.S. are children, so actually self-identifying members are probably closer to 4.5 million. Still a long ways from 5.9 million, but…

  2. Anon for this snark
    December 15, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    The <a href=""Tribune's reporter sought a reaction from the church:

    {The LDS Church had no specific comment on the survey’s data, spokesman Scott Trotter said Wednesday. “We have seen surveys such as this before. Some seem to overestimate and some underestimate various elements of [LDS] Church-related statistics. Ultimately, we reach out to individuals, not numbers.”}

    While that is true in the best sense (ideally we reach out and serve individuals, and we are saved individually), but the snarky side of me wonders how this squares with all the talk about “we teach to the pattern, not the exception” and the very real if unintentional marginalization of individuals who don’t fit the pattern of married, parent, white, affluent, well-educated.

  3. December 15, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    A related story in the Salt Lake Tribune (here) focuses on the gender gap in Utah reported in that study. I thought that article was more useful and interesting than the DN’s (unless you’re turned off by the Utahcentrism) because Peggy Fletcher Stack talked to different specialists with very different viewpoints and solicited several interesting possibilities to explain the gap, beyond the “oh, men must be leaving in greater numbers” assumption.

  4. Jax
    December 15, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    young men in the Mormon Culture Region are defecting at substantially higher rates than young women, creating a growing gender imbalance and a surplus of Mormon women. In Utah, self-identified Mormon women outnumber men by a ratio of 3 to 2

    Since we hear stories about how young men aren’t doing enough to scoop up the available young women who are wasting away with no one to marry, next conference I hope to hear someone tell the RM’s that they need to start looking for not just 1 wife, but 1.5!

  5. chris
    December 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    What percentage of men who don’t go on missions stay active (or come back to the church after their inactive late teens/early 20s)? It would seem that’s a pretty strong barrier to reactivation. Not impossible by any means as we had a recent talk which addressed this issue in conference (the temple is the ultimate focus).

    But I’ve also heard through the church that from a typical deacons quorum to priest quorum, 6 out of 10 YM, will go inactive by the time they reach mission age. That seemed pretty high to me. But it would be strange that such an emphasis on men serving missions wouldn’t create an personal obstacle in coming back to the church if you didn’t serve one.

  6. Clark
    December 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    To be fair that 6/10 if true contains a lot of recent converts. Kids converted with their family often don’t stay as active especially if their peers are problematic. Also many converts just don’t stay active period. So I think there may be a bit of correlation isn’t causation at work here.

  7. Janell
    December 15, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    I like the line, “The differences between [Latter-day Saints living in Utah and those living where Mormonism is a minority faith] have prompted scholars to posit that Latter-day Saints residing in the [Mormon Cultural Region] are a different “species” of Mormon…” I’m a firm believer that there are “Utah Mormons” and then there are other Mormons, and it’s nice to see someone not LDS (in Utah or otherwise) make the same observation :)

  8. CJ
    December 15, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    I realize this quote was from the Deseret News, but it doesn’t seem to be accurate:

    –”According to the survey, 3.2 million Americans identified themselves as members of the LDS Church in 2008. Official LDS Church statistics indicate that number was actually about 5.9 million.”

    I doubt this study was able to survey enough people to who “identified” themselves as Mormons. I think what they meant was something like this:

    Based on the survey results, researchers estimate there are 3.2 million americans who identify themselves as members of the LDS Church.

  9. Larry
    December 15, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    When only 20% of young men go on missions, according to stats read out at Church last Sunday, it appears that there is a problem of some magnitude re: keeping men in the Church. I suspect that when all the addresses given stating that men are abusers, and unworthy, that a new statistic regarding male identity with the Church might be revealing.

  10. Anon
    December 15, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    My BIL didn’t serve a mission, and he’s still active several years after the fact. I know several other active men who didn’t serve missions.

  11. December 15, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    I’m not even sure how you’d quantify that statistic. Of which set of young men? Those who were born into the Church and had been active their whole lives? Those who were in the Church at age 19 and had departed on a mission by the age of 25? Is it 20% of all men under 30 in the Church?

  12. Larry
    December 15, 2011 at 8:19 pm


    I can’t say, because they didn’t break it out. I suspect it was 20% of all young male members aged 19, because that was what the talk was about from the High Council and those were the numbers he talked about.

  13. December 15, 2011 at 9:32 pm


    You are right that not serving a mission creates a barrier for young men who might otherwise come back into church activity. My oldest son attended college outside Utah and found it hard to fit into the dating scene at Institute and Ward activities because Mormon girls are taught they must marry an RM.

  14. whizzbang
    December 15, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    In my YM time there were 7 of us, and now 15 years later after turning 18, only 2 of us are active-with one other who served a mission but is now totally inactive. Elder Oaks on his appearance confirms that the Church is losing men at a higher rate, which is something I have been hearing from a variety of other sources

  15. Tim
    December 15, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    I was good friends with a couple of men in my last ward who decided not to serve missions. They were less active at the age of 19–in part, I think, so people would stop asking them about serving missions. They returned to activity in their early 20’s and were actually among the most dependable, hardworking men in the ward (one of them held several callings). I think both were a bit worried that they’d face prejudice from LDS women wanting to date only RMs. LDS women in their 20’s who overlook men solely because they aren’t RMs are making a mistake.

  16. Bradley
    December 15, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    I am not a RM and my marriage is great. My brother is a RM and his marriage imploded. I also notice that when an LDS guy really goes off the deep end, he’s usually a RM. Maybe the devil works harder on RMs for sport. From his perspective it would be a thrilling takedown.

    The ladies in their early 20s will do as programmed, since their neocortexes don’t mature until their late 20s.

  17. Naismith
    December 16, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Very interesting. Thanks, Julie, I had not seen this.

    Just a few note on the methods: The survey was conducted by landline only. While it was appropriate to use the same sampling method for cross-time comparisons, it raises questions about non-coverage bias for the 2008 study, since a lot of young folks do not have a landline. My ward has a lot of college students so may be extreme, but by 2003 very few of our members under age 30 had a landline.

    Also, the total number of Mormons interviewed was only 738. When you slice and dice it by gender, age, etc. the cell sizes shrink. The overall margin of error cited for the survey as a whole is not the margin of error that applies to the subsample of Mormons.

  18. Peter
    December 16, 2011 at 11:49 am

    3.2 million Americans? I don’t think I was included. I don’t remember anyone asking me if I was Mormon.

  19. Manuel
    December 16, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    “I also notice that when an LDS guy really goes off the deep end, he’s usually a RM. Maybe the devil works harder on RMs for sport. From his perspective it would be a thrilling takedown.”

    Lol. Maybe they (RMs) just have a better understanding of the “behind the scenes” of church leadership and marketing…

  20. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    December 16, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Of my three adult kids, only one has a landline.

    I have frankly not been aware of any prejudice against men who did not serve missions. The Church is so desperate for everyone to contribute as teachers and leaders, it is not going to cast off someone who is objectively worthy to accept a calling. Many Latter-day Saints vary in their enthusiasm during youth and young adulthood. Going on a mission reflects their circumstances during a two year window in their lives. More significant in the long run is marriage and raising a family and willingness to serve in the Church. And there are many men who were converts to the Church who were already married. Another factor is military service, or issues of health or financial wellbeing. There are still a goodly number of General Authorities who did not serve missions as young men, but that did not stop them from going on to become bishops, stake presidents, and mission presidents later. For example, President Monson and President Uchtdorf.

  21. Julie M. Smith
    December 16, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    UPDATE: Peggy Fletcher Stack reports on some serious flaws in the study here.

  22. DN
    December 16, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    The problem is based on the fact that the political scientist didn’t read the entire report. Scroll down to the comments where this becomes apparent.

  23. Ryan Cragun
    December 17, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Also, as far as the landline vs. cellular phone issue goes, ARIS 2008 does include a supplemental sample of people with cellular phones as well as a supplemental sample of Spanish speakers. The supplemental samples were included in order to compensate for changing demographics. To the degree landline vs. cell phone and English vs. Spanish speaker matters, those were addressed via weighting. This isn’t mentioned in the ARIS 2008 summary report, but I was involved in the collection of the data and know this supplementary data was collected. Just an FYI.

  24. Ryan Cragun
    December 17, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Also, I think the characterization of the study as having “serious flaws” is a major overstatement. One finding from the study – the changing gender ratio of Mormons in Utah – has been called into questioning. No other findings have even been questioned. And, as DN notes in comment #22, the person calling that one finding into question didn’t actually read the report, didn’t contact the authors for our statistical evidence, and really doesn’t know what he is talking about. So, to claim there are “serious flaws” in the study is a major overstatement. It would be more accurate to say, “One professor at BYU pointed out that there might possibly be some overlap in two statistics from the report based on margins of error. However, he did not ask the authors for their statistics, conducted no statistical analyses himself, and, when told about this, was forced to admit that the probability of the overlap is low enough that it is accurate to say that there is a significant difference between the two statistics.” In other words, there are no serious flaws in the report.

  25. Don Strevel
    December 17, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Many, so many of the people that come back from a Mission are never heard from again. There is huge pharmacological torture on a Mission. You work 12 hours a day, six days a week and then have to back in on the 7th at 5:00 for more work. Then they scream about results and want you to baptize anything that moves. There is Missionary politics where they want to move up in the ranks. Almost as bad as the General Authorities…remember Paul H. Dunn!
    After all that people have to put up with there is no wonder that the reality of the mind game shines through and they leave never to be seen again. The largest number of people that serve Missions “dissapear”.

    Don, Las Vegas

  26. azlanja
    December 18, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    “we reach out to individuals, not numbers” -spokesman Scott Trotter

    If Mr. Trotter served a mission he must not remember it very well.

  27. clark
    December 19, 2011 at 12:40 am

    Don, I bet activity rates for RMs are much higher than for non-RMs. That doesn’t negate the tragedy of those who come back and fall away. I’m not sure they disappear due to “mind games.” Sorry you appear to have had a bad time. Not everyone does. How to motivate young men is difficult at the best of times. It’s not surprising some don’t do a good job of it. I don’t think all or even most missionaries are all about numbers though.

  28. December 19, 2011 at 10:41 am

    “According to the survey, 3.2 million Americans identified themselves as members of the LDS Church in 2008. Official LDS Church statistics indicate that number was actually about 5.9 million.”

    To the writer who misused the word “actually” in that second sentence: please stop.

  29. Clark
    December 19, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    I’m rather surprised that the official statistics are so close to the self-identification statistics. They didn’t used to be that close. Yes a difference of 2.7 million is big. But there used to be many, many people of record who probably didn’t self-identify. When you consider how many new converts leave the first year a difference of that little is pretty surprising. Especially when it’s such a pain to take people off the records.

    That’s probably due to changes the Church did which incentivized wards to remove members who don’t consider themselves Mormon. I think there’s still strong incentives to keep inactive Mormons on file and friendship them. But people who have truly left are a different matter.

  30. Apostate
    December 19, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    For those of you who continue to believe: I feel sorry for you. The inconsistencies are staggering. How do you reconcile the fact that your founder was a complete fraud?

  31. December 19, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Your sympathy has completely disarmed me, Apostate, and I shall now be brave enough to follow in your footsteps. Thank you for saving me from, you know, exaltation and all that.

  32. Faithful
    December 19, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Apostate, I pray you have found solace in your perfectly consistent worldview, untouched by any humans with failings.

  33. stephen hardy
    December 20, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Peter: “3.2 million Americans? I don’t think I was included. I don’t remember anyone asking me if I was Mormon.”

    The problem with sites like this is that it is hard to know when a comment is serious. Are you serious? Do you think that the only way to accurately report a trend or figure is to poll each and every member of society?

  34. December 27, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Having ‘served a mission’ may have less to do with future active or inactive status than marriage and children. That being said, neither of those factors came into play for this return missionary. More influential was an emphasis on honesty. Once children were in the picture, there was no way would I be party to perpetuating what I consider untrue ideas on innocent children. Rather, my efforts have been to educate my children to think and to understand why my beliefs changed.

  35. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    December 27, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    My personal experience as a missionary was that the experience was largely something that was determined by the missionary himself/herself, and secondarily by companions. The amount of time that the mission president got to spend with each individual missionary was about one half hour four times a year. The amount of “coercion” that can be exercised from hours away is pretty minimal. Thinking back from the perspective of a 62 year old grandfather, it is pretty amazing that so much independence is given to such young men and women, who pretty much decide what they are going to do every day. The military does not trust young soldiers to that extent, and I can’t think of any business that does it.

    It is possible that you got a mission president who was driven by statistics rather than real love for God and his children. However, all of the people I have known who served as mission presidents, including several who served alongside me as missionaries, did not fit that description. The primary focus of each one I have known has been the wellbeing, both physical and spiritual, of the missionaries entrusted to their care. If anyone drives missionaries to exhaustion, it is most often themselves and their own expectations, possibly reinforced by what they think of as the expectations of parents or other people they look up to.

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