From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Young, Lawrence A.
The Church is generally perceived to be a family church; but for various reasons many Church members become or remain single adults. Thirty percent of North American Latter-day Saint adults are currently widowed, divorced, separated, or have never married (1981 Church Membership Survey). Because of concern for their Welfare, the Church has focused attention on the needs of single members and has organized activities and programs targeted to meet these needs.
Results of a demographic study indicated that among LDS single adults, 23 percent were divorced or separated, 13 percent were widowed, and 63 percent had never married. Children were present in 16 percent of single-adult households. Estimates of marital experiences indicate that only 3 percent of LDS men and women between eighteen and thirty in 1981 would never marry by age sixty. Thus while most Latter-day Saints eventually marry, singleness is a relatively common experience for LDS adults. Only 51 percent of women and 64 percent of men between eighteen and thirty in 1981 are expected to be in an intact first marriage by age sixty. The others will have experienced some period of singleness due to having been divorced, widowed, or never married. If these trends continue, one-third of adult Church members will divorce at some time before age sixty (Goodman and Heaton, pp. 92-93, 96).
Poverty is a real threat to LDS single women, especially when children are present. When LDS households have equal numbers of members, those headed by females are 2.5-5.5 times as likely to be living below the poverty level as those headed by a married couple (Goodman and Heaton, p. 101). Church Welfare Services and the Relief Society seek to address both the immediate needs and the long-term problems of these women and families.
The ratio of single LDS men to single LDS women indicates a high number of women. In 1981, "for every 100 LDS women in the prime marriage ages (20-29 years) there are 89 LDS men" (Goodman and Heaton, p. 90). The ratio of weekly church attenders is even more out of balance: "For all singles over 30 there are 19 active men [who attend church weekly] for every 100 active women" (Goodman and Heaton, p. 91).
Furthermore, single LDS men and women are "mismatched on salient demographic characteristics. Single women over 30 have higher levels of education, occupation, and Church activity than single men. For example, never-married women over 30 are more likely to have four years of college (42 percent compared to 18 percent for never-married men) and professional occupations (70 percent compared to 38 percent)" (Goodman and Heaton, pp. 90-91). Goodman and Heaton conclude that "marriage to an active male is demographically impossible for many active single females over 30. And even when there are available males, they may possess other characteristics that rule them out as potential mates. Obviously, marriage is not a universal solution to singleness if the only acceptable marital option is marriage to an active LDS partner" (p. 91).
For instructional and activity programs, single adults in the Church are divided into two groups: young single adults, aged eighteen through thirty; and single adults, aged thirty-one and above. Wards, stakes, and regions of the Church sponsor a broad range of activities aimed at meeting the needs of these groups. Activities include young single adult Sunday School classes, Family Home Evening groups, service projects, socials, recreational events, and conferences.
For five years (1972-1977), in response to the increasing number of single adults and a concomitant concern with addressing their needs, the Melchizedek Priesthood Mutual Improvement Association developed a uniform organizational program throughout the Church. Its purposes were to identify the needs of singles, to increase awareness of their contribution to the Church, to provide program and activity suggestions, and eventually to incorporate responsibility for the singles into the priesthood quorums and Relief Society, which is the situation at present. Each ward now has a committee for single adults that includes one member from the bishopric, the Relief Society presidency, and the elders quorum presidency; a mature married couple to serve as advisers to young single adults; and elders quorum and Relief Society representatives from both the young single adult and single adult groups. Each stake has a similarly composed committee with responsibility for responding to the needs of singles at the stake level. Regional and sometimes multiregional committees are formed on an ad hoc basis to meet the needs of singles by bringing together greater numbers for various social and spiritual activities.
Some stakes have established wards or branches for single adults in areas where there is a high concentration of single members. Single wards have been organized to provide more leadership opportunities for singles and increased social experiences within the Church setting. In general, ward members must reside within the geographic stake boundaries and be a young single adult (ages eighteen to thirty). In areas with significant college student populations, membership may be limited to students. With the exception of the bishop, who is married, positions in the ward are normally staffed by the single adult members.
Church curricula and publications have also addressed the issue of singleness. Numerous articles dealing with challenges encountered by single adults and the place of single adults in the Church have appeared in the official Church magazine, the ensign. In recent years, priesthood and Relief Society lesson manuals have also responded to singles' concerns and have suggested that teachers relate instructional material to single adults in the class.
Latter-day Saints have always placed a high value on marriage and family life. Consequently, the increasing number of single adult members presents a special challenge on how best to blend these single members into the Church community. A 1981 Church Membership Survey provides evidence suggesting that married members of the Church currently have greater opportunities for institutional involvement. Specifically, the survey notes that "singles score higher on the forms of religious involvement that are private, such as prayer and tithing, than on public involvement such as having a calling" (Van Leer). In other words, when leaders consider two equally devout individuals for a Church calling where one is single and one is married, they are more likely to extend the calling to the married individual. In particular, single men traditionally have been excluded from main leadership positions within the wards and stakes of a predominantly married population. Clearly, all of these matters are issues that require special Church attention for the future.
Emphasis on temple marriage and family has grown over time within the Church (Shepherd and Shepherd, p. 76). President Ezra Taft Benson reaffirmed the emphasis placed on marriage in his counsel to LDS single adults (Benson, May and Nov. 1988), reiterating the Church's position concerning temple marriage: To "obtain a fullness of glory and exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom, one must enter into this holiest of ordinances" (Benson, May 1988). Stressing the importance of marriage, he encouraged singles not to lose sight of the sacred goal of marriage and not to postpone or forego marriage for education and career. He also presented differing models of the responsibility single adults have toward temple marriage, with men having an active responsibility and women placed in a more passive role. In an article addressed to single Latter-day Saint men, President Benson warned single men that they were in danger of losing eternal blessings by failing to marry (Benson, May 1988). On the other hand, he recognized that some women may not have the opportunity for temple marriage in this life. In a later article addressed to single Latter-day Saint women, he noted the Lord's promise that if their lives are "worthy and [they] endure faithfully [they will] be assured of all blessings" (Benson, Nov. 1988, p. 97), if not in this life, then in the eternities.
Benson, Ezra Taft. "To The Single Adult Brethren of the Church." Ensign 18 (May 1988):51-53.
Benson, Ezra Taft. "To The Single Adult Sisters of the Church." Ensign 18 (Nov. 1988):96-97.
Goodman, Kristen L., and Tim B. Heaton. "LDS Church Members in the U.S. and Canada: A Demographic Profile." AMCAP 12, no. 1 (1986):88-107.
Shepherd, Gordon, and Gary Shepherd. A Kingdom Transformed: Themes in the Development of Mormonism. Salt Lake City, 1984.
"Single Adult Programs Change, New Guide Issued for Single Wards." Ensign 16 (May 1986):105-106.
Van Leer, Twila. "Singleness Becoming More Common." Church News, Nov. 6, 1983, p. 4.