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Surprises pop up in new survey of U.S. Mormons

Published July 31, 2009 6:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

On July 24, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released an extensive statistical portrait of Mormons in the United States.

It drew on answers by self-identified members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Pew's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey in 2007.

Though it will come as no surprise to Utahns that most Mormons are church-attending, Bible-believing Republicans, some of the other results may be less predictable. For instance, Latter-day Saints are more likely to attend church and less likely to home-school or attend religious schools than the general population.

Here are some of the findings:

Comparative size » Mormons make up 1.7 percent of the American adult population, a proportion that is comparable in size to the U.S. Jewish population but more than Jehovah's Witnesses (0.7 percent), Buddhists (0.7 percent), Muslims (0.6 percent) and Hindus (0.4 percent).

Age, gender and family » Two-thirds (66 percent) of Latter-day Saints are under age 50, compared with 59 percent of the public as a whole. Most Mormons are women (56 percent).

Marriage » Nearly three-quarters of Mormons (71 percent) are married, compared with just more than half (54 percent) among the general population. Only Hindus (78 percent) are more likely than Mormons to be married. Mormons (83 percent) and Hindus (90 percent) also are the most likely of all the major religious traditions to be married to someone of the same faith.

Family size » Latter-day Saints are widely known for having large families and, indeed, about half the nation's Mormons (49 percent) have children under age 18 living at home, with one in five (21 percent) saying they have three or more children at home. Only Muslims are similarly likely to have large families: 47 percent of Muslims have at least one child living at home and 15 percent have three or more.

Race » Nearly nine in 10 U.S. Mormons (86 percent) are Anglo, compared with 71 percent of the general population. Just 3 percent of Mormons are African-American and 7 percent are Latino. Other predominantly Anglo religious groups in the United States include Jews (95 percent), members of mainline Protestant churches (91 percent) and Orthodox Christians (87 percent).

Education » Six in 10 Mormons (61 percent) have at least some college education, compared with half the overall population. However, the proportion of Mormons who graduate from college (18 percent) or receive postgraduate education (10 percent) mirrors the population as a whole (16 percent and 11 percent, respectively).

Converts » Nearly half the LDS converts (48 percent) are above age 50, compared with about three in 10 lifelong members (29 percent). Converts also tend to be less educated than nonconverts (16 percent did not graduate from high school, compared with just 6 percent of lifelong members), and they earn decidedly lower incomes (40 percent pocket less than $30,000 a year, compared with 21 percent among nonconverts).

Converts are more likely than lifelong Latter-day Saints to come from minority racial and ethnic groups. They are less likely than lifelong members to be married (64 percent vs. 74 percent).

A quarter of current Mormons (26 percent) are converts to the faith. This is a much higher proportion than among Catholics (11 percent) and Jews (15 percent) but significantly lower than among Buddhists (73 percent), Jehovah's Witnesses (67 percent) and Protestants (45 percent, when those who have switched from one Protestant family to another are included, such as Baptist to Methodist; if changes within Protestantism are omitted, the figure is 16 percent). Of those who have converted to Mormonism, roughly half (13 percent of Mormons overall) were raised Protestant, one in four (7 percent of Mormons overall) were raised Catholic and one in five (5 percent of Mormons overall) were raised without a religious affiliation.

Retention » Mormons boast a relatively high retention rate of childhood members compared with other major religious traditions. Seven in 10 of those raised LDS (70 percent) still identify as Mormon, a figure roughly comparable to that seen among those raised Catholic (68 percent are still Catholic) but somewhat lower than among those raised Protestant (80 percent are still Protestant and 52 percent remain in the same Protestant family). Jehovah's Witnesses have a lower retention rate (37 percent are still Jehovah's Witnesses).

Of those who leave Mormonism after being raised in the faith, half (15 percent of those raised LDS overall) convert to a new religion, while the other half (14 percent overall) become unaffiliated.

The Bible » More than nine in 10 Mormons (91 percent) say the Bible is the God's word, while a majority of Mormons (57 percent) say it should not be taken literally.

Church attendance » Mormons rank among the most active of the major religious traditions in terms of attendance at religious services. Fully three-quarters (76 percent) say they attend church at least once a week, compared with 39 percent among the general population.

Home schooling » Mormons are less likely than the public overall to home-school or send their children to a religious school; 6 percent say they do so, compared with 15 percent among the general population.

One true church » Most Mormons (57 percent) say theirs is the one true faith, with a sizable minority (39 percent) taking the opposite view. More than six in 10 younger Mormons (62 percent) say theirs in the one true faith, compared with roughly half (48 percent) of Mormons 50 and older. LDS men are more likely than women (64 percent vs. 52 percent) to say theirs is the one true faith.

Utahns and others » Utahns are much less likely than Mormons from other states to share their faith with others at least once a week (13 percent vs. 37 percent), they are more likely to say theirs is the one true faith (63 percent vs. 51 percent) and they more heavily favor preserving traditional beliefs and practices (77 percent vs. 63 percent).

Politics » Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Mormons say they identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, while a fifth (22 percent) say they are Democrats. Mormons in the West are significantly more likely than members from other regions to identify as Republican (68 percent vs. 55 percent).

Among the general public, two-thirds (62 percent) say the government should do more for the needy, while only about half the Mormons (49 percent) say this. More than four in 10 Latter-day Saints (42 percent) say government cannot afford to do much more to help the needy, compared with 29 percent among the population as a whole.

Most Mormons (55 percent) said in summer 2007 that strong environmental laws are worth the cost. Half (51 percent) say it is best to be active in world affairs, and 37 percent say the nation should focus more on problems at home. Jews are the only other major religious tradition in which a majority leans toward involvement in international affairs (53 percent).

Those who are married are significantly more likely than unmarried Mormons to identify as conservative (66 percent vs. 43 percent) and Republican (70 percent vs. 52 percent) and to oppose legal abortion (73 percent vs. 63 percent).

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To read the full Pew report, go to pewforum.org.