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Surprising Mormon Responses (Part 2 of 6)

Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Ben Knoll surveyed Mormons to find out their attitudes about church teachings and practices.  What were some of the surprising Mormon responses?  Do people really adhere to the Word of Wisdom, which forbids coffee, alcohol, and tobacco?

Jana:  There were several big surprises, one of which was how many current Mormons, apparently, especially younger ones are drinking coffee. Ben actually emailed me that day when we were both analyzing data separately. He’s said, “Have you seen this?” So that was interesting. Basically, it was four out of 10.

GT:  And these are not just everyday Mormons, but these are active, temple going Mormons, right?

Jana:  Sort of, when you tease that out by age, it’s very interesting what happens because for older Mormons who said that they had coffee, for example, in the last six months, it’s primarily people who are less active in the church and don’t hold a temple recommend. But for younger Mormons, there was some overlap in those categories. Even people who said that they were very active, or who did hold a temple recommend, sometimes apparently are drinking coffee or alcohol.

Among other surprises were that there are more single men, than single women in the church!

Jana:  Another thing that surprised me, completely unrelated, is that I think many people in the Mormon experience, have the understanding that single women in the church are outnumbering single men by a factor of two, or even a factor of three. And actually, statistically, single men in the church have a slight edge over single women. And I looked at that, and I thought that is very surprising.

GT:  There are more single men than single women?

Jana:  Proportionally, which, I know, it sounds very surprising. So…

GT:  Well, in a way it doesn’t because the men get hammered pretty hard on, “Hey, go get married.”

Jana:  Well, that may be true. I cannot ascertain causation simply from that. But what’s interesting though, is that nationally that’s the case that there are fewer men proportionally who have married than women who have married at some point in their lives. So, Mormons are not actually that different than what’s going on nationally. Then looking at the previous work that’s been done on Mormons, single men outnumber single women in the Pew study, also in the 2016, PRRI study about religion in America. So, ours is the third national study in which single men have the slight edge over single women in Mormonism. And you would never guess that, just sitting in a young single adult fireside, for example. But statistically, that does appear to be the case. What do you think?

Benjamin:  I’d want to follow up with that, and I think we did at some point, I just don’t remember off the top my head of those who attend weekly. What was the breakdown with those ones? That would be fun to look at.

Jana:  Right, well, and I find that very interesting, too. Because there is a difference, right? There is a difference. But we found in terms of breaking down orthodoxy by marital category, that single men had the lowest levels of belief and adherent behavior of any marital category. So single women, or married men, married women.

Benjamin:  That may explain why we see more women at the firesides.

We also discussed an interesting concept of self-identification.

Jana:  There is the general question that’s asked on a lot of surveys about religion. “Are you a person who comes more than once a week, weekly, couple times a month,” etc.? In that we had a very nice presentation from Mormons of all ages. When we asked though, in the Sabbath question, “Have you been to church in the last 30 days?” For Millennials, and particularly for younger men, that gap between the people who say that they attend weekly, and who actually have been in the last 30 days was wider. So that’s interesting.

Benjamin:  And that’s not uncommon with survey research, either. People tend to over report behaviors that people see is desirable….Sociology and religion research has shown the similar things with, for example, religious service attendance. People don’t want to say to the person at the end of the other end of the phone, “Nah, I don’t go all that often,” right? Because I mean, that’s getting less and less to be the case. But historically speaking, that’s been seen as a normatively desirable thing to say that you do in American society.

GT:  So you go to church, but you haven’t been in the last 30 days?

Jana:  Right. And that is a question that kind of gets at how we view ourselves. We want to see ourselves in a particular way.

Benjamin:  We know from other statistical research that’s been done in the Church that estimates of activity amongst church members from the Church’s perspective is somewhere around like one-third, 40% , right, of the people who are on the records, who are there showing up every Sunday and active and doing things there.  In our survey, that was much, much, much higher.  There was a solid 85% of the people who identify as a Latter-day Saint are saying, “Yes, I’m there. I’m active, I attend church, etc., etc.”

Benjamin  26:08  So, what that implies to us then, is that the rest that the church is saying aren’t active, the remaining 50 to 60%, when asked on a public opinion survey, don’t even identify as LDS. So that’s an important thing to look at.  Amongst a variety of different religions, there is a space where you can say, “Yeah, I’m a Catholic, but I never go.” Or “Yes, I identify with this, but I haven’t darkened the doorway of a church for 30 years.” But, you know, that’s still part of the identity. It seems like this is suggestive to us that there’s less of a space for that within the LDS community. If you’re not actively going, people tend to just not identify as such. And I think that’s an interesting question worth pursuing. Why would that be? And what is it about the LDS community that leads to it being, “If I’m not actively doing the stuff, then I’m not even identifying, either. I don’t feel comfortable identifying.” I think that’s interesting.

What do you think of these contradictory findings?  Are you surprised that people say they are active, but haven’t been to church in the last 30 days?  Were you surprised about the Word of Wisdom question?

Check out our conversation, and check out our previous conversation with Jana and Ben on How to Randomly Sample Mormons.

Dr. Jana Riess and Dr. Benjamin Knoll detail a few surprises in their research on Mormon attitudes and practices.