Members of the MSSA, I was recently contacted by the casting producer for a future Vh1 reality show about mothers and daughters who are pregnant at the same time. Since there are slightly higher odds of this occurring among Mormons, the casting producer asked me if I would post the casting call on the MSSA website in case some members of the MSSA happen to know anyone who might fit the criteria. Here is the casting call:
Casting Call: Vh1 & Ellen Rakieten Entertainment are casting for a new docu-series and looking for mothers and daughters who are pregnant at the same time. Vh1 is interested in documenting your lives if you find yourself and your daughter in this unique situation. If both you and your daughter are outgoing and interested in sharing your stories, please contact the casting team immediately at: mothersanddaughtersExpecting@gmail.com. Please include a brief description of why you should be part of this docu-series and what has happened in your lives since you both found out you are pregnant. Include your phone number, email address and the city/state where you live. Applicants must be 18 years or older.
Q: According to the Pew center, 32 percent of U.S. Mormons have “some college education.” This is the highest percentage I know of for any denomination (including non-Christian ones). However, only 18 percent have graduated from the college level (and 11 percent from a graduate education). Both of *these* figures, while still above the national percentage, Latter-day Saints are notably outperformed by Hindus and Buddhist (which may reflect the demographics of their emmigration), Jews, Orthodox Catholics, and the mainline denominations. Latter-day Saints tie with Roman Catholics and only outperform Evangelicals, historic Black churches, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. How is the LDS lack of completing their higher education best explained?
A: Several members of the MSSA responded with information to answer this question. However, it is worth noting that, while the question asked about college non-completion rates for Mormons generally, all of the experts below noted that this is likely tied to gender differences in college attendance.
Rick Phillips made an important point about the nature of the Pew data:
This is another example of how findings from Pew’s study are skewed because they oversampled counties in Utah. The trend of women dropping out of college and the low percentage of Utah college students that are female does not square with the ARIS’s more representative sample, which shows no significant difference in the number of LDS men vs. women who have a college degree. Note as well that ARIS shows that significantly more LDS women in Utah than LDS women elsewhere are stay at home moms, so Pew is documenting a Utah Mormon phenomenon that is not as pronounced in the total U.S. LDS population.
Sherry Baker noted that Susan R. Madsen and colleagues, from Utah Valley University, have done extensive research on why young women in Utah are not attending and completing college at the same rates as young women outside Utah. In one of the reports that was published based on that research, Dr. Madsen and her co-authors note that there is a connection to Mormon men serving missions. This is reflected in the odd disparities in college attendance rates in Utah by age and sex. At younger ages, women are closer to national averages in college enrollment, but that changes at older ages. Dr. Madsen and colleagues suggest that what is driving this is Mormon men returning from missions, who then enroll in college. The influx of returning Mormon missionaries would dilute the number of young women in college. However, their study also finds that young women in Utah are dropping out after their first one or two years. While it is not explicitly stated in Dr. Madsen’s research, the implicit suggestion is that women drop out after they find a husband to marry, probably a returned missionary. She also notes that women in Utah major in low-paying, low-skill areas, like education, and are substantially under-represented in higher-paying majors like business and STEM disciplines. Despite the above findings, in one of the reports, Dr. Madsen and colleagues conclude that devout female members of the LDS Church are encouraged to get a college education and seem to suggest that being LDS encourages college participation, rather than discouraging it. This may be a case where explicit directives on the topic of education from the leadership of the LDS Church suggest one thing – college education is important for women – but many implicit directives in other areas end up pushing women away from completing college. This is well-illustrated by another of Dr. Madsen and colleagues findings that Utah women have traditionally been better educated than the national average, but that historical pattern began to shift in 1993 and by 2000 Utah women were below average. The Proclamation on the Family was released in 1995, and it says,
“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.” (full text here)
In other words, Mormon women are told to get college educations but are also told that their place is in the home, taking care of kids. The high rate of college non-completion is likely a result of the mixed messages these women receive.
Armand Mauss suggested that it would be difficult to arrive at a a definitive answer on this question without controlling for other variables:
I don’t think we can make much of such general figures without controls at least for age and for convert vs. lifer. Over the years, my impression from various data sets has been that the LDS Church tends to convert people of mainly modest education, who then produce children of much higher educational attainment.
In the interest of pursuing Dr. Mauss’s suggestion, I (Ryan Cragun), re-examined ARIS 2008 data to see what it can tell us about the educational attainment of Mormon men and women. To begin with, Mormon men in Utah do have significantly more education than do non-Mormon men in Utah. However, outside Utah, Mormon men do not have significantly more education than do non-Mormon men. For Mormon women there is a slightly different pattern. Inside Utah, Mormon women do not have significantly different educational attainment than do non-Mormon women; outside Utah Mormon women have significantly less education than do non-Mormon women. These findings are detailed in the table below:
As far as Mormon men vs. Mormon women goes, Mormon men do have significantly more education on average, but most of that education is at the upper end. There are negligible differences in college graduation rates across all Mormon men (26.2%) and women (28.4%), but Mormon men are substantially more likely to have graduate degrees (18.4%) than are Mormon women (7.4%). Also, Mormon women are more likely to have some college (32.3%) than are Mormon men (23.7), suggesting there is a phenomenon of Mormon women dropping out of college, probably once they find a husband. This data is shown in the table below:
However, there is a difference in educational attainment between Mormon men and women depending on where they live. Mormon women outside Utah are more likely to have completed college than are Mormon men, but less likely inside Utah. In both places, however, women are more likely to have some college than are men, as shown in the table below:
Finally, in an effort to more directly address Dr. Mauss’s point about controlling for age (convert status is not included in ARIS 2008), I ran two regressions. The dependent variable was educational attainment with the categories shown in the above tables (technically an ordinal variable, but used here as an interval-like variable). Educational attainment was regressed on (1) age, (2) whether or not the respondent is a Mormon (0=not Mormon; 1=Mormon), and (3) income (dummy coded as below $50,000 per year=0; above $50,000 per year=1).
The first regression included just the male participants in ARIS 2008. All three variables in the equation are significant. As age increases, educational attainment increases for Mormon men. Being Mormon increases educational attainment for Mormon men. And having more than $50,000 per year increases educational attainment (causality on this last one is, of course, tricky). Here are the results:
The second regression included just the female participants in ARIS 2008. Income is positively correlated with educational attainment. Age and being Mormon, however, are inversely correlated with educational attainment, though the dummy code for being Mormon is not significant. Here are the results:
In other words, even when you control for age and income, only men see educational benefits from “being Mormon”; Mormon women do not.
In the United States in the late twentieth century, LDS members have higher rates of marriage and lower rates of marital dissolution than the national population (see Divorce; Marriage). Marriage patterns vary in different areas of the Church (Fig. 15). Marriages performed in LDS temples are the LDS ideal. The percentage of adults in a temple marriage varies from about 45 percent in Utah to less than 2 percent in Mexico and Central America. Temple marriage is relatively common among Latter-day Saints throughout the United States and Canada but is relatively rare in other areas of the world. Marriage outside the temple is about as frequent as temple marriage and is the most common form of marriage outside the United States and Canada. In some areas, a significant minority of marriages involve one partner who is LDS and another who is not. These interfaith marriages involve only about 5 percent of the membership in Utah, Mexico, and Central America, but reach nearly 20 percent in other parts of the United States and in Canada. There are more than twice as many LDS women as LDS men married to spouses of another faith…. The distribution of households does not fit any uniform pattern across countries. The idealized vision of a family with a husband and wife married in the temple and children present describes only one out of five LDS families in the United States and less than 3 percent of LDS families in Japan.
Based on the above information, it is highly unlikely that the percentage of Mormons who regularly participate in temple worship could be above 50% and is likely somewhat below 50%.
David Stewart offered the following response:
The recent Pew Research Center study (“Mormons in America,” 12 January 2012) surveyed 1,019 Mormon adults in the US by phone. Their methodology involved “oversampling of certain regions of the country where Mormons are most numerous” (p. 67). The authors also note that sampling was not random and involved re-contacting Mormons identified on prior Pew surveys (p.67) to better represent LDS populations in areas where Latter-day Saints constitute a small minority. The Pew study found that 65% of Mormon adults surveyed claimed to hold a current temple recommend. However, this result must be interpreted with several important caveats:
Religious affiliation was based on self-identified religious preference rather than on a statistical sampling of church membership records. The Pew study misses individuals who no longer consider themselves Mormons but are still counted as members by the LDS Church. The results are relevant for self-identified Mormons, but cannot be extrapolated to overall membership figures, which include large numbers of disaffiliated individuals who no longer identify the LDS Church as their faith of preference.
LDS member activity rates in North America are known to be in the 40-50% range, with many semi-actives included in that figure (see here), whereas 77% of Mormon respondents on the Pew survey claim to attend church at least once weekly. Again, the Pew study heavily oversamples the most active Mormons while undersampling less-active or disaffiliated members (precisely because such individuals are less likely to identify themselves as Mormons).
Prior Pew studies, which served as a basis for re-contacting prior Mormon respondents, have demonstrated a skew not representative of the overall LDS population as claimed on church records. For instance, the 2008 Pew Forum Religious Landscape Study reported that only 23.5% of self-identified US Mormons were converts, whereas cumulative demographic data, birth rates, and historical convert baptism rates all suggest that converts should comprise at least 50% of North American LDS membership. This discrepancy correlates with other data suggesting that at least half of North American converts have become disaffiliated. I have dealt with several additional methodological issues with prior Pew survey here. Another way to look at these sampling issues is to observe that in contrast to traditions such as Catholicism where individuals may strongly identify with the faith without actively participating, LDS membership is more polarized between active members who identify themselves as Mormons and non-participating members who no longer consider the LDS Church their faith of preference, with only a relatively narrow stratum (primarily in the “Mormon Cultural Region”) of individuals who identify themselves as Mormons but do not regularly participate.
Self-reported data among US Christians has widely been found to over-report perceived desirable religious behaviors on matters such as church attendance (38-44% of Americans claim to attend church weekly but only about half are actually there) and tithing (nearly three times as many American Christians claim to tithe as actually do so; see here). It is a bit of a running joke, and not without evidence, to state that when people tell you how much they drink or smoke, you double it; when people tell you how much they go to church, you cut it in half. While one hopes that Latter-day Saints may be more candid in self-reporting their behaviors than their neighbors of other faiths, it seems unlikely that studies of Mormons are totally exempt from the over-reporting of religious behaviors. Indeed, the same current Pew study that claims that 65% of Mormon adults hold a temple recommend also found that 79% of Mormons claim to pay a full tithe and only 1% are partial tithe payers (Pew p.39). I do not believe that this finding is likely to be considered credible by anyone who has served in a LDS bishopric or as a ward clerk.
The study only refers to US Mormons. International LDS members demonstrate significantly lower overall participation and temple attendance rates than US members (references above); US data cannot be extrapolated to the worldwide church.
So how many Mormons attend the temple regularly? The LDS Church does not release specific data, but what we know about activity rates and member participation can reasonably suggest upper and lower brackets. With LDS activity at about 40-50% in North America and 65% of self-identified Mormons claiming to have a temple recommend (remembering that most non-participating Mormons do not identify themselves as Mormons, and that perceived desirable religious behaviors seem to be significantly exaggerated), it is difficult for me to see a figure above one-third of LDS adults holding an active temple recommend as realistic, and the actual the number may be slightly less. It is also generally known that only some fraction of recommend holders attend regularly (anecdotally perhaps one third or fourth, although I have no certain idea). Overall international rates are likely to be not more than half of U.S. rates, given the preponderance of LDS membership in nations with relatively low activity rates (detailed country reports here).
Armand Mauss wrote in response to this question as well, noting:
I have no systematic data on this subject. However, during the past two decades I have had callings in several western wards that have permitted me to know how many ward members held recommends, and I have compared notes with friends in other wards having similar first-hand knowledge. From these experiences, I would say that the proportion of LDS adults holding temple recommends is closer to 1/3 than to 2/3, at least in the American west.
Finally, Cardell Jacobson wrote a response as well:
I would just point out that there is a great deal of variation within the United States. The core of the LDS Church, of course, remains along the Wasatch front (in Utah), but also parts of Arizona, Idaho, Alberta, and some areas of California. In other areas, the numbers of temple recommend holders, tithe-payers, attenders, etc. are far less than in the core.
Based on the above information, it seems likely that the highest rates of temple attendance among Mormons are in the Mormon heartland – the Wasatch Front and other parts of the Intermountain West. The percentage of Mormons who regularly participate in temple worship in that Mormon heartland is unlikely to be as high as the percentage noted in the 2012 Pew Survey – 65%. Given the methodology of the survey, that number appears to reflect the behaviors of highly engaged Mormons. The other data provided above suggest that the real number is much lower than the Pew number, perhaps as few as 25% in the U.S. and much lower outside the U.S., but an exact number isn’t known.