Social Characteristics

See this page in the original 1992 publication.

Author: Bahr, Stephen J.

The major social characteristics and attitudes of Latter-day Saints in the United States, along with the challenges and problems they face, can be compared to those of other religious groups. Comparisons can be based on information that has been gathered about Latter-day Saints in the United States regarding their family characteristics, such as marriage, divorce, fertility, and sexual attitudes, as well as their social class, gender roles, substance use and health, political affiliation, attitudes toward social issues, religiosity, and migration.

SOURCES. Each year a random sampling of about 1,500 U.S. adults is interviewed in the National Opinion Research Center's Cumulative General Social Survey (NORC). From 1972 to 1988 this yielded a sample of 23,356, of whom 288 (1.2) were LDS, a very small sample of the total Church population.

A supplemental source is the annual national survey of high school seniors conducted by Johnston, O'Malley, and Bachman (1988) for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). They survey approximately 16,000 U.S. high school seniors each year regarding their lifestyles and substance use (62,570 students from 1984 to 1987). Beginning in 1984 they included "LDS" as one of the responses to the religion question (1.6 chose that response). These proportions of Latter-day Saints are similar to Stark's (1989) estimate that 1.6 percent of the population of the United States is LDS.

In addition, data on Church members have been published in various professional journals. Heaton and Goodman (1985) report information from a national, random sample of 1,500 Latter-day Saints and make comparisons with NORC data.

For comparisons in this article between Latter-day Saints and other religious groups, percentage differences larger than 5 percent are statistically significant.

MARRIAGE. Heaton and Goodman (1985) reported that 97 percent of Latter-day Saints over age thirty have married, which is higher than the marriage rate in the same category for Catholics, Protestants, or those with no religious affiliation. According to NORC data, a higher percentage of LDS Church members have been married than any other religious group. Eighty-nine percent of LDS adults have been married, compared to 87 percent of Protestants, 81 percent of Catholics, and 83 percent of Jews (Table 1).

AGE AT MARRIAGE. Latter-day Saints also tend to marry early. Forty-five percent of LDS women and 23 percent of LDS men have married by age nineteen. By age twenty-one 74 percent of LDS women and 49 percent of LDS men have married. This is considerably higher than for any other religious group (Table 1).

MARITAL HAPPINESS. Sixty-six percent of married Latter-day Saints say they are "very happy" in their marriages, compared with 65 percent of Protestants and Catholics and 57 percent of those with no religion. LDS women tend to report more marital happiness than other women, particularly Protestant and Catholic women. On the other hand, LDS men report lower levels of marital satisfaction than all other men except those with no religion (Table 1).

DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE. The divorce rate is lower among Latter-day Saints than among Protestants, "other," and "none," but higher than among Catholics or Jews, as shown in Table 1. Eighteen percent of Mormons report that they have been separated or divorced, compared with only 11 percent of Catholics and 10 percent of Jews. In the survey of Latter-day Saints by Heaton and Goodman (1985), they reported that 17 percent had been divorced. NORC data for 1978, 1980, 1982, and 1983 showed considerably higher rates of divorce for the non-LDS or "other" religious groups than those shown in Table 1 (additional research is needed to resolve this discrepancy). After divorce, Latter-day Saints are more likely to remarry than persons from other religious groups (Heaton and Goodman, 1985).

FERTILITY. Thornton (1979) found that Latter-day Saints in the United States and Canada have a high fertility rate. Although LDS fertility has decreased substantially during the twentieth century, it remains considerably higher than that of other religious groups. Heaton and Goodman (1985) found that LDS women average about one child more than women in other religious groups.

NORC data illustrate the relatively high rate of childbearing among Church members. More than 50 percent of Latter-day Saints have three or more children, compared with 36 percent of Catholics and 37 percent of Protestants. About one in five Church members has five or more children, compared with only one in ten among Protestants and Catholics. Only about 2 percent of Jews have five or more children.

Among all religious groups except Latter-day Saints, the ideal number of children is two. Forty-three percent of Catholics said that two is the ideal number of children, compared with only 23 percent of Latter-day Saints. More than 50 percent of Latter-day Saints said that the ideal number of children is four or more, compared with 26 percent of Catholics and 22 percent of Protestants (Table 2).

SEXUAL ATTITUDES. A greater percentage of Latter-day Saints disapprove of premarital sex, extramarital sex, and homosexuality than any other religious group. As shown in Table 3, 58 percent of the Latter-day Saints said that premarital sex is always wrong, compared with 34 percent of Protestants and 25 percent of Catholics. About three-fourths of Protestants and more than two-thirds of Catholics said that extramarital sex and homosexuality are always wrong, compared to 90 percent of Latter-day Saints.

SOCIAL CLASS. LDS Church members tend to be middle class in terms of education, occupation, and income. They tend to have somewhat fewer people in high-status occupations than Jews or those with no religion, but somewhat more than Protestants and Catholics.

EDUCATION. Eighteen percent of LDS women and 22 percent of LDS men in the NORC survey have graduated from college. This is significantly higher than the comparable percentages among Protestants and Catholics, but lower than among Jews and those with no religious affiliation. Fourteen percent of LDS men and 8 percent of LDS women have received graduate education. Jews and those with no religion have higher percentages, while Catholics and Protestants have lower percentages (Table 4).

OCCUPATION. The data on occupations are similar to the data on education. Among both men and women, Latter-day Saints have more professionals and managers than Catholics or Protestants but fewer than Jews or "others." They have fewer operative workers than any other religious group except Jews. LDS women are overrepresented among service occupations, with 25 percent in service occupations, compared with only 19 percent of Catholic women, the religion with the next highest percentage (Table 5).

INCOME. Table 6 gives a distribution of family income by religious affiliation. About one in five LDS families has an income less than $10,000 per year, while 15 percent earn more than $50,000 per year. The only religious group dramatically different from Latter-day Saints in income distribution is the Jewish: Almost half of Jewish families earn $50,000 or more, while less than 10 percent have incomes below $10,000. Although the differences are not large, Latter-day Saints have a few more middle-income families than the other religions. Thirty-nine percent of LDS families have incomes between $25,000 and $50,000, which is higher than for any of the other religious groups.

GENDER ROLES. Brinkerhoff and Mackie (1985) studied how religion is related to gender role attitudes among college students. They found that the more religious students tend to have more traditional attitudes. Those with no religion were the most egalitarian, followed by Catholics, Protestants, and Latter-day Saints.

As shown earlier in Table 4, LDS women are more likely to graduate from college than Catholic or Protestant women, but less likely than Jewish or nonaffiliated women. For graduate education the pattern was similar-a higher percentage of LDS than Catholic or Protestant women have received graduate education.

As shown in Table 5, LDS women are more likely to be employed in professional occupations than Catholic or Protestant women. Twenty-three percent of LDS women are employed in professional occupations, which is similar to Jewish women and women with no religious affiliation.

Respondents to the NORC survey were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: "A preschool child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works." Agreement with this statement is higher among Latter-day Saints than among any other religious group. As shown in Table 7, 22 percent of LDS strongly agree with the statement, compared with only 16 percent of Catholics and 13 percent of Protestants.

SUBSTANCE USE. LDS doctrine prohibits the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other addictive drugs. Among adults and adolescents, usage rates are considerably lower among Latter-day Saints than among other religious groups (Table 8). Only 28 percent of adult Latter-day Saints say they drink alcohol, compared with 65 percent of Protestants, 85 percent of Catholics, and 86 percent of Jews. Fourteen percent say they smoke tobacco, compared with 36 percent of Protestants, 38 percent of Catholics, and 28 percent of Jews.

The NIDA survey of substance use among high school seniors reveals substantial differences between Latter-day Saints and other religious groups (Table 8). About 33 percent of LDS high school seniors said they had used alcohol within the previous thirty days, compared to 62 percent of Protestants and 75 percent of Catholics. The percentage of LDS seniors who smoke is half as large as among the other religious groups-14 percent among LDS, 28 percent among Protestants, and 32 percent among Catholics. The differences for marijuana are not as large, but are still lower for LDS students. For example, 14 percent of LDS seniors had used marijuana during the past month, compared to 22 percent among Protestants and 25 percent among Catholics. LDS students also have low rates of cocaine use. Five percent had used cocaine during the past month, compared to 5 percent among Protestants, 7 percent among Catholics, and 8 percent among Jews.

HEALTH. Jarvis and Northcott (1986) observed that Latter-day Saints have longer life expectancy than non-LDS because of lower than average rates of cancer, heart disease, and infant deaths. Self-reported health of NORC respondents (Table 9) shows 85 percent of Latter-day Saints report that their health is good or excellent, which is higher than any other religious group. Only 3 percent of LDS rate their health as poor.

POLITICAL AFFILIATION. Stark (1989) reported that Utah is the most Republican state in the nation, judging from the fact that a higher percentage of people voted for Reagan there in 1984 than in any other state. Data on religion and political party affiliation confirm that Latter-day Saints strongly favor Republicans. Almost half of Church members are Republicans, compared with only 27 percent of Protestants, 18 percent of Catholics, and 11 percent of Jews. Nineteen percent of Latter-day Saints say they are "strongly Republican" compared to only 10 percent of Protestants and 6 percent of Catholics. The percentage of people who are Democrats is smaller among LDS members than among any other religious group (Table 10). In 1984, 85 percent of Mormons voted for Reagan compared to 57 percent of Protestants, 57 percent of Catholics, and 41 percent of Jews.

ABORTION. Jews are the most accepting of abortion, while Latter-day Saints are the least accepting. Less than one-fourth of Latter-day Saints favor abortion if the reasons are lack of money, being unmarried, or not desiring the child. The next-closest group is the Catholics, and more than one-third of them favor abortion in the above-stated circumstances. Sixty-seven percent of Latter-day Saints favor abortion if the fetus is deformed, compared with 74 percent of Catholics and 96 percent of Jews. Almost 90 percent of Latter-day Saints favor abortion if the health of the mother is endangered by the pregnancy. This percentage is similar to most other religious groups, although Jews and those with no religion have percentages of 97 and 95, respectively (Table 11).

DEATH PENALTY. A majority of Americans approve of the death penalty for murderers. Of the six religious groups shown in Table 11, Latter-day Saints show the greatest support for the death penalty while "others" give the least support. Eighty-nine percent of Latter-day Saints favor the death penalty compared to 67 percent of Protestants, 71 percent of Catholics, and 60 percent of "others."

LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA. Only one in ten Latter-day Saints supports the legalization of marijuana, compared with about two in ten among Protestants and Catholics. Forty-one percent of Jews and half of those with no religion favor legalization of marijuana.

RESIDENCE AND MIGRATION. Latter-day Saints are less likely than individuals from other religious groups to have grown up in a large city and somewhat more likely to have lived in "open country but not on a farm." Only 9 percent of Mormons were living in a large city at the age of sixteen, compared to 11 percent of Protestants, 22 percent of Catholics and 51 percent of Jews. Twenty percent of Mormons were living on a farm at sixteen, compared to 27 percent of Protestants, 10 percent of Catholics, and 11 percent of Jews.

Do certain religious groups tend to grow up and live in the same city or state? When Latter-day Saints become adults, do they tend to stay in the area where they were raised, or migrate elsewhere? NORC respondents were asked if they lived in the same city, same state, or a different state than they lived in at age sixteen (Table 12). Forty-one percent of Latter-day Saints lived in a state different from the one where they lived at age sixteen, while 31 percent lived in the same city as they did at age sixteen. In this, Latter-day Saints are not dramatically different from members of other religious groups. They appear somewhat more mobile than Catholics and Protestants in that a higher percentage live in a different state than they did at age sixteen.

When one compares various selected social characteristics of Latter-day Saints with other religious groups in the United States, one finds both similarities and differences. Latter-day Saints as a whole have higher rates than other religious groups with respect to marriage rates, rates of marital satisfaction, fertility, and life expectancy, as well as higher disapproval rates on sexual relations outside of marriage, abortion, and the legalization of marijuana. Latter-day Saints have fewer divorces than most Protestant groups, but more than Catholics and Jews; they tend to have higher rates of education, income, and occupational status than Protestants and Catholics, but typically lower rates in these respects than Jews.


Bibliography

Brinkerhoff, Merlin B., and Marlene MacKie. "Religion and Gender: A Comparison of Canadian and American Student Attitudes." Journal of Marriage and the Family 47 (1985):415-29.

Heaton, Tim B., and Kristen L. Goodman. "Religion and Family Formation." Review of Religious Research 26 (1985):343-59.

Jarvis, George K., and Herbert C. Northcott. "Religion and Differences in Mortality." Mimeographed, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alta., 1986.

Johnston, Lloyd D.; Patrick M. O'Malley; and Herald G. Bachman. Illicit Drug Use, Smoking, and Drinking by America's High School Students, College Students, and Young Adults: 1975 -1987. Rockville, Md., 1988.

Stark, Rodney. Sociology, 3rd ed. Belmont, Calif., 1989.

Thornton, Arland. "Religion and Fertility: The Case of Mormonism." Journal of Marriage and the Family 41 (1979):131-42.

STEPHEN J. BAHR

Table 1. Marital Characteristics by Religious Affiliation


Religious Affiliation


Protestant Catholic Jew Other None Mormon

Percent ever

married 87 81 83 74 66 89

Percent

married

by 19

Female 49 37 24  34 40 45
Male 8 12  3 13 18 23

Percent

married

by 21

Female 70 61  50 56 65 74
Male 42 33  17 32 40 49

Percent

"very happy"

in marriage

Female 63 62 69  70 60 72
Male 67 68  65 63 55 62

Percent ever

divorced or

separated 18 11 10 20 23 18

SAMPLE

SIZE 14,678 5,809 515 368 1,626 288

Source: NORC pooled surveys for 1972-1988.



Table 2. Religion and Fertility


Religious Affiliation


Protestant Catholic Jew Other None Mormon

Children ever

born

Percent with

3 or more

children 37 36 21 25 20 52

Percent with

5 or more

children 11 11 2 5 5 22

Ideal number of children

Percent who say

ideal number

of children is...

2 50 43 49 54 56 23

3 22 26 29 20 16 18

4 14 15 7 8 12 26

4 or more 22 26 16 19 17 54

SAMPLE SIZE 14,678 5,809 515 368 1,626 288


Source: NORC pooled surveys for 1972-1988.


Table 3. Sexual Attitudes and Religion


Religious Affiliation


Protestant Catholic Jew Other None Mormon

Percent who said

that...

Premarital sex

is always wrong 34 25 13 22 7 58

Extramarital

sex is always

wrong 76 71 46 43 58 90

Homosexuality

is always wrong 77 67 33 55 40 90

SAMPLE SIZE 14,678 5,809 515 368 1,626 288

Source: NORC pooled surveys for 1972-1988.

Table 4. Education by Religion (In Percent)


Religious Affiliation


Protestant Catholic Jew Other None Mormon

Women

College graduate 12 11 35 17 25 18

Postgraduate 4 4 14 11 9 8

Men

College graduate 17 19 52 37 27 22

Postgraduate 8 8 31 13 17 14

Source: NORC pooled surveys for 1972-1988.



Table 5. Percent in Selected Occupations by Religion


Religious Affiliation


Protestant Catholic Jew Other None Mormon

Women

Professional 15 15 25 19 23 23
Manager 7 7 16 8 12 8
Clerical 29 37 37 27 30 30
Operative 14 13 6 21 9 6
Service 19 16 5 15 15 25

Men

Professional 14 16 35 26 21 17
Manager 14 14 26 19 11 16
Clerical 5 8 10 5 7 8
Operative 18 15 13 10 16 10
Service 8  8 3 10 8 7

SAMPLE SIZE 14,678 5,809 515 368 1,626 288


Source: NORC pooled surveys for 1972-1988.



Table 6. Family Income by Religion (In Percent)


Religious Affiliation


Protestant Catholic Jew Other None Mormon

Income level

$0-9,999 26 15 10 29 18 22

10,000-24,999 33 34 17 23 33 24

25,000-49,999 30 36 24 34 34 39

50,000 or more 12 15 49 14 15 15

TOTAL 101 100 100 100 100 100

SAMPLE SIZE 14,678 5,809 515 368 1,626 288


Source: NORC pooled surveys for 1972-1988.


Table 7. Percent Who Strongly Agree that a Preschool Child Is Likely to Suffer if His/Her Mother Works


Religious Affiliation


Protestant Catholic Jew Other None Mormon

Percent who

strongly agree 13 16 14 8 15 22

SAMPLE SIZE 14,678 5,809 515 368 1,626 288

Source: NORC pooled surveys for 1972-1988.


Table 8. Substance Use by Religious Affiliation


Religious Affiliation


Protestant Catholic Jew Other None Mormon

Adults

Percent who

drink alcohol 65 85 86 66 87 28

Percent who

smoke 36 38 28 34 49 14

SAMPLE SIZE 14,678 5,809 515 368 1,626 288

High school seniors

Percent who

drink alcohol 62 75 79 51 70 33

Percent who

smoke 28 32 30 25 32 14

Percent who

use marijuana 22 25 28 18 32 14

Percent who

use cocaine 5 7 8 5 9 5

SAMPLE SIZE 29,949 18,704 914 3,642 7,046 972

Percent who

used during the

past 30 days.

Source: Adults: NORC pooled surveys for 1972-1988.
Seniors: NIDA pooled surveys for 1984-1987.


Table 9. Perceived Health by Religious Affiliation (In Percent)


Religious Affiliation


Protestant Catholic Jew Other None Mormon

Health

Good or

excellent 72 77 78 81 79 85

Fair 21 18 17 16 17 12
Poor 7 5 6 4 3 3
 100 100 101 101 99 100

SAMPLE SIZE 14,678 5,809 515 368 1,626 288

Source: NORC pooled surveys for 1972-1988.


Table 10. Political Party by Religion (In Percent)


Religious Affiliation


Protestant Catholic Jew Other None Mormon

Democrat 41 46 55 34 30 26

Independent 30 35 32 48 54 26

Republican 27 18 11 14 13 46

Other 2 1 2 4 3 1

Strongly

Democrat 18 18 20 10 16 6

Strongly

Republican 10 6 2 4 7 19

SAMPLE SIZE 14,678 5,809 515 368 1,626 288

Source: NORC pooled surveys for 1971-1988.


Table 11. Percent Favoring Abortion, Death Penalty, and Legalization of

Marijuana by Religion


Religious Affiliation


Protestant Catholic Jew Other None Mormon

Abortion if...

Endangered 
health 88 83 97 88 95 88
Rape 79 75 96 81 91 71
Defective 
fetus 79 74 96 80 91 67
Poor 45 40 85 61 74 24
Unmarried 41 37 85 53 71 24
Do not 
desire child 40 36 81 71 53 22

Death penalty 67 71 68 60 62 89

Legalization of

marijuana 18 22 41 28 50 10

SAMPLE SIZE 14,678 5,809 515 368 1,626 288


Source: NORC pooled surveys for 1972-1988.


Table 12. Migration Since Age 16 by Religion


Religious Affiliation


Protestant Catholic Jew Other None Mormon

Current residence

compared

to residence at age 16

Same city 43 46 38 30 41 31
Same state 26 25 20 21 23 28
Different state 32 29 42 50 36 41

TOTAL 14,678 5,809 515 368 1,626 288

Source: NORC pooled surveys for 1972-1988.


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