How many Utahns identify as Latter-day Saints? Fewer than you think.

New study shows most adults in the state don’t identify as members of the predominant faith.

Ask Utahns and they will tell you the signs have been there for years. Longer waits for Sunday brunch. A proliferation of coffee shops and brew pubs. Bustling tattoo parlors boasting names like “Painted Temple.”

Sure enough, a new study all but confirms what many have sensed all along: Most Utahns do not identify as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Indeed, the “provisional” findings, based on a survey of nearly 2,000 Utah adults, show that 42% consider themselves members of the state’s predominant faith — a whopping 22 percentage points lower than the 64.3% the church reports on its membership rolls.

The difference comes down not to data, necessarily, but definitions.

The study’s authors were not interested in how many people are listed in the church’s books, a number that includes those who haven’t been to church since Ronald Reagan was president and the Utah Jazz were championship contenders. Instead, they wanted to know how many Utahns, if asked, would say they are Latter-day Saints.

“Different questions require different data,” co-author and Utah Tech University sociologist Bethany Gull said in an interview, “and different measurement approaches.”

The findings hardly surprised Gull, who said she anticipates the number to fall further as secularization — defined as institutional religion’s diminished role in society and individual lives — and migration to Utah continue to grow even as Latter-day Saint families shrink.

Religion’s declining role in Utah society

Of all the religions included in the survey, the LDS Church had the highest retention rate of its young people. Tempering this achievement is the finding that, at just under 70%, this rate still represents, Gull said, a decline when compared with the 1980s.

For those who leave the church, meanwhile, the study shows the destination is rarely another religious community. Instead, decoupling from the faith, at least in Utah, usually results in abandoning organized religion generally.

There are other signs, Gull said, that religion simply doesn’t hold the sway it once did in Utah over individual and societal values, behaviors and practices. She noted that, according to a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll, 72% of Utahns today support same-sex marriage — despite the LDS Church’s steadfast opposition to it.

“This suggests,” Gull said, “that sources of moral authority outside of traditional LDS Church teachings on sexuality are influencing people’s opinion on this topic.”

In short, many Utahns simply feel less tied to the religious institutions in which they were raised. And, for a growing number, this translates into disaffiliation.

The incredible shrinking LDS family

Latter-day Saints have forever placed family (albeit in different configurations) squarely at the center of their theology. Family size functioned, in many ways, as a measure of parents’ commitment to the church, and Utah for decades boasted far and away the nation’s highest birthrate.

Not anymore. In 2016, the study notes, Utah women had on average just 0.4 more children than the U.S. average, compared to 1.5 in 1980.

“It’s not the large-family state that it once was,” Gull told Religion News Service. “Utah is not in the top two, maybe not even in the top three anymore. It’s the Dakotas.”

New faces in town

The most important likely factor when it comes to religious affiliations in the state doesn’t have anything to do with (native) Utahns at all.

“Migration is contributing the most,” Ryan Cragun, another of the study’s authors and a sociology professor at the University of Tampa in Florida, told Religion News Service.

As he and his colleagues write, Utah’s religious subculture historically attracted Latter-day Saints and deterred those of other faiths or no faith at all.

That has changed.

“Increasing apostasy from the LDS Church made moving to Utah more attractive for non-Mormons,” they write. “As former Mormons began to change the tenor of neighborhoods, workplaces and civic organizations, fitting in became easier for new arrivals” attracted by the (relatively) affordable housing, a growing technology scene and the “greatest snow on earth.”

‘Not surprised at all’

Matt Martinich, an independent researcher who tracks church movements for the websites cumorah.com and ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com, said he was “not surprised at all” by the finding that 42% Utahns self-identify as Latter-day Saints. But he pushed back against the idea that this represents some great departure from the past.

“Roughly speaking, about one-third of the population of Utah are active Latter-day Saints, one-third are inactive members, and one-third are not members,” Martinich said. “This has been a long-known fact about Latter-day Saints in Utah.”

Had the same survey been repeated every year for the past century, he said, the largest percentage of respondents to identify as Latter-day Saints would have likely peaked at 52% in 1977, the year with the highest percentage of Latter-day Saints in Utah within the past century.

“So saying that Utah is no longer Mormon majority is misleading,” he said, “because it really hasn’t ever been a strong majority when taking self-affiliation and activity rates into account.”


The researchers surveyed a random sample of 1,909 Utahns representative of state census data on age, race and education. A majority (almost 60%) of the respondents were female.

Based on their larger-than-average sample size, the researchers estimate there is a 99.9% chance that between 38.3% and 45.7% of Utah’s population identifies as Latter-day Saint.

“Thus,” the authors write, “we find that Mormons are no longer the majority in Utah.”