Q: Mormon socio-political values and prior religious affiliations of Mormon converts

Q1: Duke, using survey data from the 1970s through the early 1980s, published some interesting comparisons between Mormon socio-political values and those of Americans in general (in which Mormons of that era held some surprisingly liberal attitudes about civil rights/liberties issues).  Albrecht (and Bahr, iirc) published some interesting information about patterns of religious disengagement and reengagement in the early 1980s as well. Are there more recent empirical studies that update these and show either continuity or change from the earlier findings?
Several MSSA members (Cardell Jacobson, Rick Phillips, and Armand Mauss) suggested the following book as a response to Q1:
Heaton, Tim B., Stephen J. Bahr and Cardell Jacobsen. 2004. A Statistical Profile of the Mormons: Health, Wealth and Social Life. Edwin Mellen Press.

Here is Cardell Jacobson’s comment on that book,

Tim Heaton, Stephen Bahr, and I published a book in 2004 (Mellen Press) that updates political and social attitudes of Mormons compared to the nation as a whole.  It also has some data on religiosity and trends, but nothing on those who join the LDS Church.  It is an expensive book.  Those interested might check for a library copy somewhere.

Armand Mauss also suggested the following,

Minimal data on such attitudes among Mormons during recent decades will be found also in the second half of Chapter 9 in my own The Angel and the Beehive (Illinois U. Press, 1994), where I have also excerpted tables taken from American Mainline Religion, by Wade Clark Roof and William McKinney (Rutgers U. Press, 1987), which itself could be consulted. Chapter 6 in that book compares Mormons with numerous other denominations as of the 1980s. My other book, All Abraham’s Children (Illinois U. Press, 2003) has some recent data on Mormons’ attitudes toward blacks in the last part of Chapter 9. That’s about all that comes to mind without doing any bibliographical searching of my own, which I trust the questioner can also do.

Q2: Is there any available research on the prior religious background of LDS converts? That is, which, if any, denomination(s) are LDS missionary efforts most successful in recruiting?

David Knowlton suggested the following regarding Q2,

While I have not been researching prior religious background of converts to Mormonism in Latin America, I have been researching the social segments Mormon converts come from and presented material on that at last years SSSR.  If the person is interested I would be glad to forward that manuscript.  It has been accepted for publication once I make a few changes.  Where I have worked the vast majority of the converts are from one form or another of Catholicism.  But since Catholicism occupies so much space in Latin America there is a need to look more closely at  “one form or another” and systematize it.  I have been using census data and so am looking more at socio-economics than the religious background per se.  That question remains to be answered.

Rick Phillips suggested the following regarding Q2,

The GSS has a variable called “relig16” which asks for Respondents’ religion at age 16. You could look at the religion of converts by pulling Latter-day Saints out of the GSS and doing frequencies for relig16. Stark and company have argued that movements like Mormonism have been most successful among the “unchurched”–people who may have been raised within a specific faith tradition, but who weren’t very strong in that tradition. Obviously, in Latin America, those people would have been nominally Catholic. Thus, worldwide it seems a safe bet that Catholicism is the modal religion from which converts come.  Also, for a recent and important article on religious switching using a nationally representative US sample with Mormons in the mix, see:  Darren E. Sherkat, “Tracking the Restructuring of American Religion: Religious Affiliation and Patterns of Religious Mobility, 1973-1998,” Social Forces 79, no. 4 (2001): 1459-1493.

And Armand Mauss suggested the following,

For Q.2, nothing special comes to mind. I have seen commentary, and maybe data, on denominational backgrounds of LDS converts, but not much, and I couldn’t run it down very easily. Maybe my big bibliography (with Reynolds), available through the MSSA website, would have some articles on this topic.The JSSR has carried some good articles on religious “switching” to and from various denominations (by Kirk Hadaway and others), in which I think Mormons were occasionally included. Probably the LDS Research Information Division would be the best source of such data on the religious backgrounds of LDS converts, if you could get someone in that agency to share it.  That’s my best shot without doing any special scouring of the various sources.

Q: I am wondering if there is any work that has been done on the meaning of conversion in the LDS church and the sociology behind conversion.

Q: I am beginning research on the conversion experience of women to the LDS church in the 19th century. I am wondering if there is any work that has been done on the meaning of conversion in the LDS church and the sociology behind conversion. Specifically I am looking for information on what conversion means to Mormons and what inspires conversion.

A number of MSSA members responded with suggestions.

Richley Crapo suggested,

I’m showing my age here, but there’s an old, old book by Anthony Wallace (“Personality”) that includes some material on what he called “mazeway resynthesis” which may be of use in talking about the psychology of religious conversion.

Michael Nielsen suggested,

You may want to consider why and whether conversions to Mormonism are or would be be different from conversion to other faiths.  From a social science perspective, I don’t immediately see why there might be a difference.  If you don’t think there is a difference, you might profitably broaden your literature review to address the 19th century in general.  There might be some worthwhile literature in Armand Mauss’s chapter in Allen, Walker & Whittaker’s “Studies in Mormon History” published by U. Illinois press.

John Hoffman suggested,

My work on Japanese Mormons (esp. Chapters 3-4) and Henri Gooren’s work on Guatemalan and Nicaraguan members (see, in particular, his articles in Dialogue and his book on Conversion Careers [which might not be out yet]) provide a couple of contexts, though not a U.S. context. There’s also a Mormon converts website (mormonconverts.com) that has interesting anecdotes, though not sociological. Stark and Bainbridge’s article Networks of Faith (AJS 85: 1376-95, 1980) mentions Mormon conversions as consistent with their more general theory (I think). A Google Scholar search turns up a few other scholarly treatments that might be useful to Katherine (e.g., Seggar and Kunz, 1972, Review of Religious Research; Paloutzian, Richardson, & Rambo, Journal of Personality, 1999).

Armand Mauss suggested,

If Katherine is just starting, she should start at the beginning, which would be the massive bibliography by Allen, Walker, and Whittaker, Studies in Mormon History, 1830-1997. Within that bibliography, she should consult the topical sections on Conversion, Biographies, Autobiographies, Women, and then Section 4-C in the Social Science portion at the end of this big bibliography (this is available on the MSSA website). This much will get her into the literature on 19th-century Mormon women and their conversion stories, as well as the relatively small literature on conversion models and processes among Mormons in particular. Some contemporary experts on womens’ conversions in the 19th century are Claudia Bushman, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Jill Mulvay Derr, and Maureen U. Beecher, all of whom should be consulted by name in the alphabetical portion of the big bibliography.  Two useful collections containing accounts of early LDS women’s experiences, conversion and otherwise, are Claudia Bushman (ed.), Mormon Sisters: Women in Early Utah (2nd ed. 1997, USU Press) and Maureen U. Beecher & Lavina Fielding Anderson (eds.), Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective (U. of Illinois Press, 2d. ed. 1992).  Katherine should also search the main journals in the sociology of religion (esp. JSSR and SR) for theoretical models of the conversion process. Among the most recent work of this kind is Henri Gooren’s, so he should be asked to offer his suggestions. I have attached herewith the bibliography from one of the latest drafts of Henri’s new book manuscript on “conversion careers,” which appears to me to contain the major articles and books on conversion from the social science literature of the past three or four decades. Of course, this attachment should not be passed on to Katherine without Henri’s permission, but I doubt that he would care. Preferably, an updated version would come directly from him, so be sure he is asked. Anyway, that’s what comes to mind for me on first consideration. This much will at least get her started.

Richard Bennett suggested,

Here are some possible sources on conversion in LDS history:
  • O.Bannion, J. A., “The Convert as Social Type: A Critical Assessment of the Snow-Machalek conversion typology as Applied to British Mormon Converts.” (Master’s thesis, 1998)
  • Bradley, M. S. “Seizing Sacred Space: Women’s Engagement in Early Mormonism.” (Dialogue, 1994)
  • Black, Susan Easton. Ed. Stories from the Early Saints: Converted by the Book of Mormon. 1992
  • Maxfield, M. R. “The Book of Mormon and the Conversion Process to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (Ph.D. dissertation, 1976)
  • Charney, L. A. “Religious Conversion: A Longitudinal Study.” (Ph.D. dissertation, 1988).
In addition, we have a graduate student here at BYU named Andrea Erickson who has written on the topic of Spiritual Instruction among early LDS women from 1832-1842. You might want to contact her.

Henri Gooren suggested,

In addition to my Dialogue articles, there are also parts in my dissertation on the LDS conversion process in Guatemala City. See Henri Gooren, Rich among the Poor: Church, Firm, and Household among Small-Scale Entrepreneurs in Guatemala City. Amsterdam: Thela, 1999. My Conversion Careers book is still under review at two presses, but it has a huge review of conversion literature. Part of this is also included in my new JSSR article in the current issue 46 (3).  Other works where LDS conversion comes up are the Shepherds’ Mormon Passage: A Missionary Chronicle (U Illinois, 1998) and an article on (folklore surrounding) LDS conversion stories by Eric Eliason at BYU (English department). There’s also a historical book called Amazing Conversion Stories … From the Church of JC of LDS. It contains mostly 19th Century conversion stories, so it might interest her. I don’t have the reference here, although it’s in my Conversion Careers book.

David Knowlton suggested,

My masters thesis, at the University of Texas, also has a section on conversion and the problems of a phenomenology of Mormon conversion in the context of an indigenous culture, since it deals with Mormonism among Aymara speakers in Bolivia.

Jessie Embry and Janiece Johnson suggested the following,

Janiece Johnson published an article and wrote a thesis using women’s letters from the nineteenth century that might be of interest. Here are the citations for the article and thesis.  The article includes five letters and the thesis 18. “‘Give Up All and Follow Your Lord’: Lucy Mack Smith, Rebecca Swain Williams, Phebe Crosby Peck, Melissa Morgan Dodge, and Olive Boynton Hale, 1831-1841,” BYU Studies 41:1 (Winter 2002), 77-107.”‘Give It All Up and Follow Your Lord’: Mormon Female Religiosity, 1831-1843″ M.A. Thesis, Department of History, BYU, 2001.

Q. I was wondering if any of you had any idea on a way that I might be able to locate which wards and stakes in the U.S. have organized an interfaith outreach component to their Public Affairs committee?

A. The membership of the MSSA have a number of suggestions for how to get this information.

Here is Lynn Payne’s response:

I know a couple of things about how the Church is organized for interfaith outreach.  Each ecclesiastical area of the Church in the US (total of 11) has a public affairs office.  Each of these area public affairs offices coordinates local public relations work.  Each area public affairs office reports directly to the Public Affairs Department at Church HQ.  Outside of Utah most stakes have a stake public affairs director.  These stake leaders meet together regularly to plan public affairs work in their areas. Each area public affairs office has different priorities.  However, I am aware that the North America West Area (Los Angeles in particular) has had some fairly extensive outreach with the local Muslim community.  Public Affairs in L.A. has had contact with an Islamic Center in L.A., and several prominent individuals. The Los Angeles Public Affairs office  should have some handle on, or through their contact should be able to find out what units have created interfaith outreach groups.

Here is Richard Stamps’s response:

I have had some personal interaction with individuals in the Muslim community but never on an official basis. In our Grand Blanc, Michigan Stake we have had no official outreach program. One might contact the Bloomfield Hills or Westland Stakes in Michigan because of the large Muslim population in the Detroit area.

Here is Armand Mauss’s response:

I can add to what Lynn Payne has said. He is right that the place to go with inquiries about Mormon-Muslim and other interfaith relationships is to Public Affairs, not to RID. I happen to be the LDS interfaith representative for my stake in Orange County, where there is quite a large Muslim community. Accordingly, there is a long history of Mormon-Muslim relationships here, though I have only recently learned about them, because I have only recently been put on my stake public affairs committee.  One can get into the network involved in Mormon-Muslim relationships by contacting any or all of the following three people: Keith Atkinson (email available upon request), who is the LDS public affairs officer for California; Tom Thorkelsen (email available upon request), who is the main LDS interfaith representative for Orange County (CA); and Steve Gilliland (email available upon request), who is the interfaith rep for LA County. They have all been dealing with Muslim relationships for some years, and they know who else in the LDS Church has been doing the same. If someone were to start with them, he/she could learn of other informants through the “snowball” technique. I think they will prove very cooperative, and so will the public affairs people in SLC, whom Keith Atkinson can help her contact.

Here’s Mike McBride’s response:

Public Affairs in Orange County, CA, has also had interactions with Muslims in Orange County via local interfaith organizations.  In fact, just last Sunday was an open mosque day where mosques were open to the public and LDS were among those invited to tour and learn more about Islam.  This event was advertised in ward bulletins.  I also believe local Muslim leaders were among those who toured the Newport Beach CA Temple during its open house in Summer 2005.  The tours were coordinated via local Public Affairs personnel and interfaith organizations.  I know the PA director over Orange County and can pass along his contact info.

Finally, here is Donald R. Snow’s response:

One place to start would be with the Public Affairs Dept in the Church Office Building. They probably know what’s happening related to the Muslims around the world. I know that when we were in New York City as Directors of the NY FHC in 1999, Karl and Donna Snow were there as the Public Affairs Missionaries and they had lots of contacts with government and NGO (Non-Government Organizations) from the U.N. and around NYC. Among other things they sponsored a large dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria for the Arabic Nations Coalition. They had Elder Neal Maxwell come and talk and they presented a copy to everyone of the first volume of the BYU published translation of the Arabic philosophy series that they are doing. From what I understand it was a major success. I’m sure Karl and Donna Snow still have some of those contacts. They are back in Provo now after a couple of Humanitarian Missions to some of the African countries. Also, I imagine Dan Peterson at BYU would probably have information on some Muslim groups since he teaches Arabic and is involved with that translation series.

Q: What is the percentage of first-generation members among LDS Church membership (active or otherwise)?

A: Unfortunately, this question is not easily answered as the LDS religion does not publish these numbers explicitly.  The answer can be estimated from the growth figures found in the LDS Church Almanac as well as some numbers in a few other sources.  To calculate this number you would actually need all of the following information:

  • annual number of converts (available)
  • what percentage of the converts are “adult” converts, meaning they are the first members of their family to have joined the religion (occasionally available)
  • what percentage of the converts are “child” converts, meaning they are the children of existing members (occasionally available)
  • what percentage of each of the above groups leaves the religion every year (not available)

Only one of the above numbers is readily available, the annual number of converts.  That number is published in the LDS Church’s Deseret Morning News Almanac on a yearly basis (usually with a 2 year lag in reporting the numbers, i.e., in 2007 they reported converts through 2005).  The percentage of adult and child converts has been reported in the past (and used to be included in the same Alamanac, but is no longer).  Most recently, the LDS religion reported these percentage on their website here.

Because we do not have all of the data we would need to actually calculate the exact percentage of Mormons who are first-generation and second-, third-, fourth-generation and so on (i.e., 2nd-generation+), the best we can do is estimate this.  Gary and Gordon Shepherd did some of these calculations in an article published in Dialogue (Shepherd, Gary. and Gordon. Shepherd. 1996. “Membership Growth, Church Activity, and Missionary Recruitment.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 29(1):33-57.), which gives us a few key points of data that allow us to improve our calculations.

We can use our “known” information to estimate the “unknown” information.  Our “known” information includes:

  • annual number of converts
  • ratio of adult converts to child converts for three points in time – 2006, 2001, and 1960 (1960 data come from Shepherd and Shepherd 1996)
    • 2006 adult/child convert ratio: 3:1
    • 2001 adult/child convert ratio: 4:1
    • 1960 adult/child convert ratio: 1:1

If you use growth data going back to 1930 (which is about the average lifespan of people in the US) and estimated ratios of adult/child converts (assuming linear changes in the ratio over that time span), you can estimate the total number of first-generation and 2nd-generation+ members of the religion (see attached Excel spreadsheet).  The numbers you arrive at indicate that somewhere around 65% of Mormons are first-generation; ~35% are 2nd-generation+.

Keep in mind that these are estimates, not actual numbers.  This is a BEST GUESS based on limited data.  Additionally, these estimates should be qualified with some of the things we do know about Mormon growth.  First, based on the sociological literature and the work of some members of the MSSA, it is pretty safe to say that the growth numbers are exaggerated (see recent papers by Rick Phillips and David Knowlton).  Additionally, we know that second generation members are more likely to stay members than are converts (Hadaway, C. Kirk and Penny Long Marler. 1993. “All In The Family: Religious Mobility in America.” Review of Religious Research 35:97-116.).  Finally, it is very likely that these numbers vary by region, with the most second+ generation members in Utah, followed by the U.S., then other regions.  With all of these qualifications taken into consideration, more accurate estimates are probably something like: 40% to 50% of Mormons are 2nd-generation+; 50% to 60% of Mormons are first generation converts.

Q: What information is there on religious discrimination against Mormons?

A: Several members of the MSSA responded to this question. Here are their responses:

Ethan Yorgason:

I don’t know what’s been done from a legalistic standpoint. But on the issue of the cultural stereotypes that might be behind any concrete instances of discrimination, there’s been plenty. Terryl Given’s Viper in the Hearth is probably the most sustained treatment of how such stereotypes are rooted in religious impulses. But see also the work of Jan Shipps (Sojourner in the Promised Land gives a good sampling), Chiung Hwang Chen (including work I did with her on Mormons as a model minority, etc.), Gary Bunker & Davis Bitton (on pictorial images historically), and many more. If the person asking is interested, I can provide several more references along these lines.

Michael McBride:

You may want to check the bibliography on the MSSA website. Several sections of Armand Mauss’s bibliography would be helpful, including section 16 (Media and Public Images of Mormons and/or the Mormon Church) and Section 21 (Anti-Mormon Organization and Activities).

Armand Mauss:

If you are looking for a bibliography of anti-Mormon literature, you should start with pp. 483-87 of Studies in Mormon History, 1830-1997 (University of Illinois Press, 2000), compiled by James B. Allen, Ronald W. Walker, and David J. Whittaker. This reference work will be found, I believe, in most university libraries now. National U. S. attitudes toward Mormons are assessed in an article of March 2, 2007, by Frank Newport, from Gallup data.

Michael Nielsen:

There are also a couple of cases that were in the news recently. One involved a student at the U. of Utah who charged that the curriculum (theatre program) was biased against LDS values. Here is one of the court judgments:


Another, more famous, court case involved Mormon and Catholic families who sued a Texas school district over religious bias. The school prayed before football games and other school events, but the prayers were very clearly limited to Baptist (or perhaps a more general evangelical) orientation. I’m sure that there are more details of the judgment available than this summary that I found on a Mormon news site, but this will get you started:


Finally, anecdotal evidence of bias against Mormonism is found in places such as this internet discussion board http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=3755 Of course, anecdotal evidence may not be very valuable for your purposes, but it is an interesting illustration of people’s perception of the question.

Jan Shipps:

The chapters in my Sojourner in the Promised Land that deal with perceptions of the Latter-day Saints reflect a careful thoroughly systematic consideration of this dimension of religious discrimination. But what about real honest-to-God discrimination when missionaries are murdered and, probably lots more common, LDS people get passed over for jobs, et cetera? I’m not sure who has done the best study of this dimension of discrimination. Still, I think it will be helpful to make a distinction between what might be described as passive and active discrimination. We all know the history of active discrimination: the Missouri Mormon War, Haun’s Mill, etc and about the Utah War, the Raid, etc. In connection with my current book project (What’s Happened to the Mormons since World War II), I’ll be very interested in references to active discrimination that has occurred in the past half century, especially active discrimination that can be documented.

Mel Hammarberg:

In addition to the other references, there is an entry under “Anti-Mormon publications” in the Church and Society volume of selections from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, edited by Daniel Ludlow (1992), pp. 16-27.

Q: How are missionaries assigned to missions?

Question #1: Just got to wondering… What process does the Church use to decide which missionaries go where?
A member of the MSSA reported via secondhand knowledge that General Authority’s of the religion make the assignments (General Authority’s are men in the upper hierarchy of the religion who work full-time for the religion; they include: The Apostles and First Presidency, as well as members of the Seventies and Area Authorities).  They are often assisted by aides familiar with the characteristics of missionaries and the requirements of missions.  According to this individual’s source, the General Authority (GA) sits in front of two computer monitors – one has the missionary’s information on it, the other has the needs of missions on it.  Based on that information, the GA makes the assignment.

Question #2: The reason why I ask is because it seems to me that church members look down on missionaries that go stateside.
Technically, questions 2 and 3 are hypotheses that warrant further investigation; which is to say, we don’t actually have empirical data on these questions (at least, no one in a position to reveal this information has empirical data on it).  This may actually lead to a research study in the future.  Until then, the best we can do is speculate based on our own experiences.  Here are some of the responses:

  • I too have only intuitive and impressionistic “data” from general conversations in various wards that the more “exotic” the mission, the higher the “status” of the mission call.
  • Not all well-qualified missionaries can go abroad, so some go stateside.
  • As to the perception of a “ranking” among mission calls (stateside vs. foreign), so many missions in the USA are now catering to large immigrant populations that whatever misconceptions the public has about this matter might eventually disappear once more and more missionaries get called to U.S. missions speaking Spanish, Vietnamese, Hmong, Portuguese, Creole, etc.
  • The above point about the rise of U.S. missions to immigrant populations is well-taken. Transnationalism is changing everything. Things will change. But I remember as a child being enraptured by the stories told by missionaries returned from far away places, like New Zealand, Samoa and Germany (I vividly remember things about all three places to this day). I count it as one reason I’m an anthropologist today. I also remember my own disappointment in being sent to the Northern California Mission. The reason for my call became obvious to me soon after I arrived. I estimate that from 40 to 50% of the missionaries (maybe more) were there for some health reason or another. ( I had a chronic heart murmur.) Missionaries who encountered health and emotional challenges while in other missions (including severe culture shock) were often sent state-side to our mission. Parodying a popular movie at the time, we jokingly referred to ourselves as the “Mission of Fools.” And we were a motley crew in may ways. It was clear to me that we were as close to Utah and Idaho as possible; so we could easily be cared for back home if need be. Back to my disappointment: I knew I wouldn’t be sent overseas, but I had expected to be sent to what I think was then called the Spanish American mission, since I had many years of Spanish behind me at that time. Looking back, being in the Bay area at the time that Haight-Ashury in San Francisco and Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley were in their hippie golden age was about as exotic as anyone could wish for. I treasure the experience.

Question #3: It also seems like missionaries that have a health problem, like depression, end up going stateside, as if depression doesn’t have enough stigma associated with it.
As noted above, empirical data on this (that can be revealed) does not exist.  Thus, here are some of the speculations from leading experts in the area:

  • It would make sense, too, that missionaries with health problems would not be sent far away from where they could get immediate help with acute situations. Incidentally, just to add another dimension, I think this overlaps with the gender issue. That is, young women are less likely than young men to be sent to areas where they might not be “safe.” I suppose that accounts for the apparent fact that virtually all the missionaries in the Temple Square mission are women (plus a few older couples).
  • From my experience watching missionaries go and return:  If a missionary has problems abroad (medical injury, anxiety or more serious mental issues),  they are often brought home to recover.  If they are sent out again to finish their missionary term, they are almost never sent abroad again, but instead are sent stateside where they are closer to good medical personnel.
  • Safety and availability of medical assistance certainly factor in to these decisions. Bishops and Stake Presidents are often reminded to be candid in their personal remarks about missionary candidates.  And in recent years the Missionary Department has also increased the scrutiny regarding potential health concerns.  Three years ago or so in my old campus ward I had a sister who wrote in the “Hobbies” section of the application something to the effect that she liked to “spend time alone.”  I confess that I did not make much of an issue about that, but in a couple of weeks the Missionary Department asked for a professional evaluation.  Oops …

Q: How does the LDS religion use statistics?

I have a question for you, whenever you can.  I would like to know if there is any study on the following problem:  Is the LDS church and/or any other church in the US consistently using social statistics as an important way to present itself to the public?  If so, is it usually done in a comprehensive and honest way, showing both achievements and shortcomings, or just for occasional propaganda?

from Michael Nielsen:
My reply would be that institutions in general tend to emphasize the positive to their stakeholders or other audiences, and minimize the negative. Churches are no different. The abuse of children by priests is a good example of this, where no institution appears eager to “come clean” entirely, despite the fact that the issue is important.

That said, the LDS church does count its members differently (in a more centralized, top-down kind of way) than do most religious groups. Some have claimed that this shows an effort to use stats as a promotional tool. Perhaps so, but is this the result of natural (and unconscious) human tendencies toward self-promotion, or the result of a conscious or cynical scheme to manipulate public impressions? I think this may ultimately be an unanswerable question without somehow soliciting a candid response from someone sufficiently ‘in the loop’ to know whether this is discussed. If someone has made such a statement, I’d be interested in hearing it.

from Mel Hammarberg:
The Deseret News has published the annual Church Almanac for the past 30 years as an overview and statistical profile of the LDS church.  The definitions for data collection seem to be relatively consistent and have served as a relatively unbiased though limited view of the church.  With the growth of the church, many national surveys that use religion categories are now able to “break out” the LDS as a separate group.  Tim Heaton and Lawrence Young at BYU (Sociology) could provide further background.

from Armand Mauss:
I’m sure that Perry Cunningham could explain what sorts of social data are regularly collected by the Church for its own internal purposes, as well as for public relations, but it is rare that any such “proprietary” data are released to the public. Certainly such data are used within the Church to show “both achievements and shortcomings,” one might say, but when shared with the public (including readers of Church magazines) such data will certainly be used selectively to influence the public image of the Church. If that is “propaganda,” so be it. Nearly any private organization (religious or otherwise) with an interest in cultivating a favorable public image can be expected to do the same. The public has a right to demand “comprehensive and honest” presentations of such data only for governmental or other public organizations, including, of course, any charities or other organizations benefiting by tax breaks (Note: The LDS religion has to report more extensive information in the UK – do a Google search on this.). At some point, we might well see a demand for churches to release “fair and balanced” data to the public on at least some of their activities, since churches do benefit by tax breaks.

A more promising resort to data “showing both achievements and shortcomings” would, in my opinion, be the increasing numbers of studies by social scientists based on large national data sets, such as the GSS, National Household Surveys, etc., most of which are in the public domain (Note: See also the ARIS study by CUNY). Tim Heaton and others studying the LDS scene have made good use of such data, and researchers of other religions have done the same. Though these kinds of data are not usually collected to show “achievements and shortcomings” per se, inferences about such can often be made and are made. I would advise anyone intending to evaluate or assess the performance of a religious organization, or its impact on members’ lives, to do a search of those kinds of quantitative studies based on national data sets (Heaton, Tim B.; Bahr, Stephen J., and Jacobson, Cardell K. A Statistical Profile of Mormons: Health, Wealth, and Social Life. New York: Edwin Mellen Press; 2005.). I think it’s expecting too much for any organization to make public internal data about itself, except with a public relations focus and motivation.

from Ryan T. Cragun:
I think the answers above make the major point – the LDS religion uses what little data it shares (mostly growth rates published in the Deseret Morning News’s yearly Almanac) to its own ends.  Now, of course, to impute motive is never accurate, especially as concerns corporations.  But most corporations act in their own self-interest.  So, call it “propaganda” or “public relations” or their version of “honest accounting,” but, in the end, most people doing research in this area are aware of the problems with the data released by the LDS religion.  There was a great presentation on this at the latest RRA/SSSR meeting in Portland by C. Kirk Hadaway.  Using demographic methods and assumptions, Professor Hadaway argued that the LDS religion is over-reporting its membership in the U.S. by almost 3 million and not reporting the number of people leaving the religion every year via apostasy – somewhere around 40,000 or so leave each year according to his calculations (see attachment; Grant Palmer, a former CES instructor puts the estimate at closer to 100,000).  Clearly the LDS religion reports data that favors the image of the religion – strong growth with no indication of people leaving.  That information works for those not well-informed about the religion and likely for the members (it’s most likely intended for the members and possibly future members), but understanding how they maintain their membership rosters (they only remove people if (1) they request it via letter or (2) they are over over 110 years in age and are not actively attending services), leads to a clearer picture of the actual growth of the religion.  Two great sources illustrating this in international growth of the religion are: (1) Knowlton, David Clark. How Many Members Are There Really?  Two Censuses and the Meaning of LDS Membership in Chile and Mexico. Dialogue. 2005 Summer; 38(2):53-78.  (2) Phillips, Rick. Rethinking the International Expansion of Mormonism. Nova Religio. 2006; 10(1):52-68.  One of my presentations at that conference also examined this issue.  If you’d like copies of any of these papers, please let me know.

Q: Can you give me statistics on the “average” mormon woman (age, race, marital status, employment, number of children, etc)?

A: The best data I know of on this question come from a study by Heaton, Goodman, and Holman that was originally published in 1994 and republished in 2001 looking at the characteristics of Mormon families.  Their study analyzes data from the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH). Newer data from the NSFH is available, but has yet to be analyzed on this question (as far as I know).  Here is the data on the variables you asked about:

Mormon women non-Mormon women
age 44.8 45.2
race (% white, non-Hispanic) 94.3 79.8
employment (% gainfully employed) 54.6 55.0
mean income $6,263 $7,905
mean years of education (12 is a high school degree; any more indicates years of college) 13.0 12.6
number of children 2.96 2.04
ideal number of children 4.61 2.78
% in metropolitan area 49.7 69.8
% in West 44.8 45.2
% currently married 63.4 53.8
% ever divorced 28.1 27.8
mean age at marriage 21.0 21.3
% who have cohabited 7.9 15.7
mean frequency of sexual intercourse (in the last month) 8.0 7.2
mean hours spent in household tasks per week (washing laundry, cooking, etc.) 57.4 44.9

Here is the actual reference for the data if you’d like to look it up and see all of the other information they include:  Heaton, Tim B.; Goodman, Kristen L., and Holman, Thomas B. In Search of a Peculiar People: Are Mormon Families Really Different? Cornwall, Marie; Heaton, Tim B., and Young, Lawrence A., Editors. Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives. 2nd ed. Illinois : University of Illinois Press; 2001; pp. 87-117.

Another book published by members of the MSSA on this topic is:
Heaton, Tim B.; Bahr, Stephen J., and Jacobson, Cardell K. A Statistical Profile of Mormons: Health, Wealth, and Social Life. New York: Edwin Mellen Press; 2005.

Q: Is there a support group for Mormon incest survivors?

A: Unfortunately, we are not the best group to contact for information on this as we deal less with the psychotherapeutic aspects of Mormonism than with the sociological aspects of Mormon life.  Nonetheless, based upon our contacts we came up with several sources that may provide additional information.

First would be LDS Family Services.  They do not provide any information specifically concerning incest, but they do have information about child abuse:


Their site doesn’t provide email contact information, but there are locations in most of the 50 states and they may have additional information for you.

The majority of the sites and groups that were mentioned by the members of the MSSA deal primarily with polygamy, though some deal with incest resulting from polygamous marriages:


Finally, there are a number of non-LDS related resources that offer support:


Another individual recommended the following text for survivors of incest:
Toxic Parents : Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward

Q: I am interested in the relationship between achieved and intended fertility in the LDS.

A: The clearest study examining differences between ‘ideal’ (intended) and ‘actual’ (achieved) family sizes is: Heaton, Tim B., Kristen L. Goodman, and Thomas B. Holman. 2001. “In Search of a Peculiar People: Are Mormon Families Really Different?” Pp. 87-117 in Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives, 2nd ed. Editors Marie Cornwall, Tim B. Heaton, and Lawrence A. Young. Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

Heaton et. al., on p. 98 (Table 5.4) show that ideal family size for Mormon males is 3.93 children and for Mormon females it is 4.61. This is contrasted to actual family sizes of 2.64 and 2.96 children for Mormon males and females, respectively. To put this into perspective with the rest of the U.S. population (non-Mormons), the ideal family size for males is 2.72 children and for females 2.78 children; actual family sizes are 1.63 and 2.04 for non-Mormon males and females, respectively.