The Demography of Utah Mormons
Tim B. Heaton
[p.249]Utah may be the most “churched” state in the nation.1 In large measure, the state’s religious orientation can be attributed to the dominance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon. In 1980 Mormons constituted 70 percent of Utah’s population.2 Although this represents a modest decline from the 73.4 percent of a decade earlier, it is still a substantial majority. In fact, the cultural traditions and organizational effectiveness of the Mormon church may yield an influence even greater than that suggested by population figures alone.
As a consequence, no other religious group has a sizable minority. Only Roman Catholics, with just over 4 percent, can claim more than 1 percent of the population. Clearly, one of the major religious distinctions in Utah is Mormon versus non-Mormon. The first question addressed in this essay concerns the similarity or dissimilarity between these two groups. The second derives from regional and national comparisons: Since Mormons dominate in the state, how do Utah Mormons compare demographically with Mormons who form a minority in other states?
Demographic information for Utah is taken from the U.S. census, which does not contain information on religious affiliation. Demographic data for the Mormon population has therefore been drawn from a survey sponsored by the Mormon church. Unfortunately, these data have the disadvantage of not being directly comparable to [p.253; table 1 comprises pp. 250, 251, 252]census data. Nonetheless, they are the best source of demographic information on Mormons available.
Data collection for the Mormon survey was initiated in spring 1981. In the first stage questionnaires were mailed to a random sample of 7,446 adults aged 19 and over from a computerized list of all Mormons in the United States and Canada. A reminder post card was sent out two weeks later. These two mailings generated a response rate of 54 percent. Additional follow-up efforts, including telephone or personal interviews, yielded a total response rate of 81 percent. Only 4 percent of the original sample refused to respond. One percent had died or were no longer members of the church. The final 14 percent were unknown to local church leaders and unavailable to telephone or mailing approaches.
Each respondent was asked to fill out a questionnaire loosely resembling the 1980 U.S. census form in content. All responses were confidential. Information was gathered from all members of a respondent’s household ages 16 and over. Weighting was used to correct sampling bias favoring households with more adults
I suspect some bias in terms of religious participation of respondents since those who refused and those who were not located are probably less involved in the Mormon church. This makes it impossible to establish a one-to-one correspondence between survey results and characteristics of all Mormons. The variables analyzed, however, do not involve religious attitudes or opinions. Thus I believe that response bias due to the church’s official sponsorship of the survey or to patterns of the religious involvement of the respondents is minimal.
Table 1 contains information on the Utah population from the U.S. census and the Church Membership Survey. With the exception of the 16-19 age group, both groups are similar with respect to age structure. Comparisons are made separately for males and females aged 16 and over. The computation of sex ratios at the end of the table indicates a predominance of females in both populations. There are 95 men for every 100 women in the state and 94 men for every 100 women in the Mormon population.
Utah is a racially homogeneous state with over 92 percent of the population identifying themselves as white non-Hispanic. The Mormon population is even more homogeneous with over 98 percent [p.254]white non-Hispanic. Hispanics constitute nearly 4 percent of the population, while American Indians and others (mostly Asian) make up over 1 percent. No minority contains over 1 percent of the Mormon group. Blacks are a small minority in either case.
Mormons are more likely to be married than the state as a whole. For men, about 67 percent of Utahns compared to 71 percent of Mormons are currently married. For women the figures are 64 percent and 68 percent, respectively. Correspondingly, Mormons have smaller percentages in the divorced/separated, widowed, and never married categories. Differences in race are even more pronounced when one looks at the proportion of men and women who have ever been divorced.
Age and marriage distributions indicate that Mormons marry older than the population as a whole. Only 32.8 percent of Mormon men marry before age 22 compared to 41.6 percent of Utahns.
Mormons have higher fertility than the state as a whole. In part, this could be due to the higher percentage of Mormons who marry. Mormons are less likely to be childless and have noticeably higher percentages reporting 3-5 children, as well as a slightly lower percentage reporting families of seven or more children.3
Educational distributions suggest a slightly more educated Mormon population. For men, 52 percent report post-high school education compared to 44.1 percent for the state. For women the values are 43.2 percent compared to 36.5 percent.
Employment figures indicate that Mormon men are more likely to be employed compared to the Utah data. Mormon women are just as likely to be employed but more likely to be unemployed than is the case for Utahns generally. The distribution of hours worked indicates the amount of time devoted to the job for the employed population is approximately equal, except that Mormon men are more likely to work more than 45 hours per week.
In the Mormon sample, both men and women are more likely to be found in white collar occupations than is true in Utah census data. Most of the difference is made up in blue collar occupations since farming is rare as a principle occupation.
Consistent with occupational status and educational achievement, Mormon men also tend to do better financially. Nearly 40 percent of Mormon men report an income of over $20,000 per year [p.255]compared to less than 30 percent of the Utah sample. For women the figures are much lower. Still, 25.8 percent of Mormon women compared to 19.5 percent of all Utah women make over $10,000.
Finally, we consider residential mobility. Utah Mormons are more likely to report living in the same residence as they did five years earlier by about 5 percentage points. They are more likely to have moved across county boundaries but less likely to have made local moves within county boundaries. Consistent with the state’s declining percentage of Mormons, a larger percentage of Utahns reports living in a different state five years earlier than is true for Mormons.
In sum, these data suggest differences between Utah Mormons and the entire population of the state. These differences are consistent with the ideology of the Mormon church which stresses family and socio-economic achievement, as well as with the historical Mormon role in populating the state and establishing its economy. In comparison with state census data, Mormons are characterized by higher rates of marriage, lower divorce, larger families, and higher levels of educational, occupational, and financial success.
For comparative purposes, the U.S. sample of Mormons is divided into three groups. Utah, the core of Mormon culture, is the first. Characteristics for this group have already been reported but bear repeating for comparison. The second group includes Mormons in the western states where they constitute an important minority. Outside the West Mormons are a small minority, so all non-western states are included in the third category. Characteristics for these three groups are presented in Table 2.
The three groups are similar with respect to age structure, but regions outside Utah have a lower sex ratio. There are 89 males per 100 females in the West and 85 elsewhere.
Mormons outside Utah are less likely to be white non-Hispanic. Still, whites constitute over 90 percent of the Mormon population in each region.
In terms of marital status, the main difference is that Utah Mormons are less likely to be currently divorced or separated. The differences are even greater when one looks at the percentage of men and women who have ever divorced. For men, the values are 14.0 for Utah, 19.3 for the West, and 18.4 elsewhere. For women, they are 16.2, 22.5, and 24.2, respectively.
[p.261; table 2 comprises pp. 256, 257, 258, 259, 260]Early marriage does not appear to be any more common among Utahns than among other Mormons. In comparison with other regions, fewer Utah men marry after age 30, but marriage before age 20 is most common among Mormon women who live outside the West–46 percent compared 36.7 percent in Utah and 31.2 in the West. Utah Mormons also have larger families than other Mormons. They are less likely to be childless and more likely to have four or more children.
In terms of education, Utah and the West are roughly equal; about the same percentages report some college experience. Mormons outside the West are less likely to enter college, but the percentage with post-graduate education is just as high or higher than in Utah or the West.
Employment status is comparable in the three regions, but part-time employment may be more common in Utah. Also, there is a slight tendency for more white collar work among women in Utah compared to the other regions.
Income appears to be slightly lower in Utah. Of men in the Utah group, 36.7 report incomes greater than $20,000 compared to 42.9 in the West and elsewhere. Likewise, 25.8 percent of Utah women report incomes above $10,000 compared to 28.5 in the West and 29.9 elsewhere.
Finally, Utah Mormons are less mobile than other Mormons. A higher percentage report having lived in the same house for at least five years and are less likely to have moved across state lines.
Most of the differences we find between Utah Mormons and Mormons elsewhere in the U.S. are probably not significant. There does appear to be more of an emphasis on traditional family values in Utah with less divorce and larger families. Since Utah is at the core of Mormon culture these results not surprising. In terms of socio-economic achievement, Utah Mormons do better in schooling and occupation but not when it comes to actual income. Simply put, Utah Mormons are not distinctive compared to Mormons elsewhere.
3. It bears repeating that differences in the two data sets belie strict comparisons between the two groups. For example, a childless rate of 16.9 percent for Mormons and 28.4 percent for Utahns generally would require a rate of 55 percent for non-Mormons (assuming that the state is 70 percent LDS). The magnitude of this figure indicates that comparisons between rates can only suggest possible differences, not indicate the magnitude of those differences.