Utah/Statistical claims

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Utah statistical claims and charges

Summary: This page indexes attacks and criticism of the Church based upon statistical analysis.

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Question: Why does Utah lead the United States in subscriptions to online adult entertainment?

A single study showed high use in Utah

It is claimed that Utah leads the United States in subscriptions to online adult entertainment. [1]

A single study showed high use in Utah. [2] The study was from a single vendor (who was not disclosed) making it difficult to know if it was a random cross-section of the entire United States. Often unmentioned is the fact that Idaho (with 25% LDS) had the lowest rate of porn subscription. [3]

However, a more recent analysis [4] of Pornhub (one of the largest pornography distribution nodes) found that Utah was 40th in the nation for porn consumption. An independent analysis found that for every 10% increase in Latter-day Saints in the population, porn use dropped by 16%, with a significance level of p=0.0001. [5]

This demonstrates the perils of using a single study as one's baseline, especially when the source of the data is not disclosed.

Potential sources of bias in the 2009 study

  1. The difference between top and bottom state is small—it may be difficult to draw firm conclusions when relatively small numbers of people can make the difference in ranking.
  2. Legal restrictions on other forms of pornography in Utah may make on-line sources the most attractive for those who seek this material.
  3. The social/religious pressure against pornography in LDS culture may make the privacy of on-line access particularly appealing, as opposed to sex shops, porno theaters, magazine subscriptions or purchases, etc.
  4. Utah has many characteristics which would tend to increase use in this type of study:
  • higher than average household income data
  • population that skews younger data
  • higher than average college graduates data
  • conservative legislation controlling pornography distribution via other channels
  • conservative ideas about religion, marriage, and God (perhaps at least partly due to the social stigma against pornography consumption that is not 'hidden' from others)

It is not clear, however, that the characteristics of Utah (e.g., less divorce, more education, younger) are necessarily bad things. Utah may represent a sort of "perfect storm" in this study in which a number of factors come together to boost its scores.

The Church, of course, abhors and repudiates both the production of pornography—which exploits the participants—and its consumption, since it is spiritually damaging and harmful to a healthy marital and sexual life.

In short, it is not clear that Utah has abnormally high rates of pornography consumption, and some strong evidence that Latter-day Saints may skew pornography consumption downward

One observer noted:

After a few months, the Utah porn statistic became entrenched in conventional wisdom. Blogs would make reference to the statistic, and having drawn their conclusions, move on to provide explanations and accusations regarding the phenomenon....For five years the conversation on Mormonism and porn has been defined by this single data point, and psychological and sociological analyses of Mormon culture...have rested upon it....

Utah’s pageviews per capita [on Pornhub] in 2013 were 40th in the US. Idaho and Wyoming, the other states with large Mormon populations, are even lower on the list, at 49th and 46th respectively....

when controlling for other variables, there is an even stronger suggestion than before that Mormon populations do not have abnormally high rates of porn use (at least as represented by Pornhub). We might even suggest that their rates of use are especially low....

when controlling for the variables already mentioned, that a 10 percentage point increase in a state’s LDS population is associated with an approximate 16% decrease in the amount of porn consumption.

This result is highly significant, even at the 0.001 level. In fact, “percentage of Latter-day Saints in population” had a higher statistical significance than any other single variable I included in the regression (the next most significant variable was internet penetration). The proportion of overall explained variation in the regression is 66%, and a test for overall significance is highly conclusive, suggesting that the model as estimated is meaningful and significant. [6]

In short, it is not clear that Utah has abnormally high rates of pornography consumption, and some strong evidence that Latter-day Saints may skew pornography consumption downward.

Discussion of the 2009 study

Some aspects of the 2009 study may have also contributed to skewing the results obtained for Utah.

Is the Ranking Significant?

Professor Edelman mentioned in his paper that difference from the top state to the bottom state on this metric is rather small.

The ratio of these extremes is just 2.85--relatively small in comparison to states' diversity in other respects. For extremes in overall population density (excluding Alaska), compare New Jersey (1,175 people per square mile) to Wyoming (5.25), a ratio of 223:1. In truck ownership, compare North Dakota (590 trucks per thousand people) to New York (0.15), a ratio of 3933:1. In proportion of the population over 65, compare Pennsylvania (15.2 percent) to Alaska (5.3 percent) and Utah (7.3 percent), ratios of 2.86:1 and 2.08:1.

So although Utah is rated the highest in number of subscriptions, it is not far above even the lowest state (Montana at 1.92) in the number of subscriptions. While Utah is also a participant in the worldwide pornography phenomenon, it is not significantly above other states in their participation. Of course the question still to be resolved is why Utah is the leader in this comparison.

Use of adult entertainment sites is very pervasive. The same report states, "As of June 2008, 36 percent of Internet users visit at least one adult website each month" (page 212).

What Makes Utah Different?

Utah has significant restrictions on the display and sales of hard core pornographic materials. The Utah Statutes [1] have the effect of making it much more difficult to get easy access to adult material. This forces those who might otherwise buy magazines or other adult materials to use the web to get access to that information. In Utah, access to most adult entertainment requires the use of the Internet. Therefore, the number of Internet users of pornography would be higher than states with different laws if all other factors were the same.

In an email with Deseret News, Edelman write, "one possibility is that Utah consumers find it difficult to obtain their desired adult entertainment through retail purchases. . . . As a result, Utah residents may be buying online (hence appearing in my dataset), whereas people elsewhere buy retail (hence not in my dataset)." [2]

Even though Utah started out as predominantly LDS, that is no longer the case. LDS population estimates for Utah suggest that they only make up 60% of the state with Salt Lake County barely over 50%. Even these figures will not give a complete pictures since many of those that are still considered members of the Church have no active involvement in the Church or feel a need to maintain Church standards.

It should also be noted that the zip codes listed with the most subscribers do not include those with the highest number of LDS, as might be expected if this were predominantly an LDS problem. [3]

Logan psychotherapist Tod Freestone says the fact that porn is not as visible in Utah makes it more enticing. "If you're seeing it all the time" in cities like Las Vegas, he says, "and it flashes up on your computer screen, then it's not that big a deal." [4]

"The forbidden is really tempting," University of Utah sociology professor Theresa A. Martinez told Davidson. "Where you have a culture that is known for family values, morality and apple pie, you will also have curiosity and interest in the forbidden."[5]

How Do Other Mormon Communities Rank?

After Utah, the next two states with significant LDS populations are Idaho (26%) and Wyoming (10%). Interestingly, they are both much lower in adult subscriptions than Utah. Wyoming shows a subscription rate of 2.29 per thousand home broadband users and Idaho is second to last place at 1.98.

What are the Factors that Would Affect the Ranking?

In the report by Mr. Edelman, he outlined 13 factors (pages 216-219) and how they influenced the subscription rate for adult entertainment.

  1. Household Income. A $1,000 increase in average household income in a ZIP Code is associated with a 0.36 percent increase in subscriptions.
  2. Percentage Age 15-24. A 1% increase in residents aged 15-24 (as a proportion of zip code population) yields a 0.19 percentage increase in subscriptions.
  3. Percentage Over 65. A 1% increase in residents of age 65 or older (as a proportion of zip code population) yields a 0.13 percent reduction in subscriptions.
  4. College Graduates. A 1% increase in college graduates is associated with a 0.12 percent increase in subscribers.
  5. Graduate Degrees. 1% more graduate degrees yields 0.30 percent fewer subscriptions.
  6. Urban Areas. Subscriptions are 38% more prevalent in urban areas.
  7. High-density Urban. In high-density urban areas (more than 5000 people per square mile), subscriptions drop somewhat.
  8. Marriage Rates. A 1% increase in marriage rates is associated with a 0.65 percent decrease in subscription rates.
  9. Divorce Rate. A 1% increase in divorce rates is associated with a 0.28 percent decrease in subscription rates.
  10. States with Conservative Legislation. Subscriptions are slightly more prevalent in states that have enacted conservative legislation on sexuality... In such states...11 percent more than in other states.
  11. States with Conservative Positions on Marriage. Subscriptions are also more prevalent in states where surveys indicate conservative positions on religion, gender roles, and sexuality.
  12. Where People Agree with Miracles and God. In states where more people agree that "Even today miracles are performed by the power of God" and "I never doubt the existence of God," there are more subscriptions.
  13. Old Fashioned Values about Marriage. Subscriptions are also more prevalent in states where more people agree that "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage" and "AIDS might be God's punishment for immoral sexual behavior."

Of course, some of these factors will be interrelated, but we can look at which factors could apply to Utah and we will see that the demographics of the state would suggest that Utah should have a higher than normal subscription rate. In almost every case these factors would suggest that Utah would have a higher subscription rate than the average population.

Do Some in Utah Have a Pornography Addiction?

Yes, of course, as do some throughout the rest of the United States. Interestingly, Utah is also more concerned about pornography addiction than any other state as shown by ranking in Google Trends. Using Utah as the baseline, the three top states for "pornography addiction" search request are 100% in Utah, 43% in Idaho and 23.5% in Tennessee, with Salt Lake City (100%), Boise, Idaho (41.5%)and Portland, Oregon (26.5%) as the three leading cities.

There are Pornography Addiction Support Group (PASG) meetings run by LDS Family Services throughout Utah most days of the week. LDS Family Services sponsors addiction recovery support meetings to assist individuals who desire freedom from addiction and a better life through gospel fellowship.

See also: Stephen T. Cranney, "Are Utah Mormons Pornography-Using Hypocrites?: Utah's Rank as Measured by Google Search Terms," SquareTwo, Vol. 6 No. 3 (Fall 2013)


Question: Is the fact that Salt Lake City has many plastic surgeons indicative of Mormon vanity and concern with appearance?

Obtaining plastic surgery can be done for both good and bad reasons. It is an oversimplification to associate plastic surgery with vanity

Why does Salt Lake City have so many plastic surgeons? While New York City has 4 plastic surgeons per 100,000 people, Salt Lake City has 6 plastic surgeons per 100,000 people.[7] It is claimed that these statistics imply that Mormon's have a vanity problem.

Obtaining plastic surgery can be done for both good and bad reasons. It is an oversimplification to associate plastic surgery with vanity.

Reasons for the large number of plastic surgeons

Forbes, the publisher of the article entitled "America's Vainest Cities", explained one reason why some cities have such a high number of plastic surgeons:

"Unexpected entries like Salt Lake City, Nashville and Louisville might rise to the top, given smaller populations and medical or university programs and centers that focus on plastic surgery. An influx of younger, more affluent residents into the smaller cities may also account for the rising number of plastic surgeons."[8]

The University of Utah has a very successful medical program, which may contribute to the large number of plastic surgeons in SLC.[9]

It is also interesting to note that plastic surgery costs a lot less in Utah than it does in the surrounding states. It's possible that the prices have been driven down due to a lack of business in the state.

Statistical claims regarding Utah cannot necessarily be applied to Mormons in general. Utah is only a little over 60% Mormon

It needs to be pointed out that there is no official LDS stance on plastic surgery. Ultimately, this is a decision that is left up to the individual.

Statistical claims regarding Utah cannot necessarily be applied to Mormons in general. Utah is only a little over 60% Mormon.[10]

Merriam-Webster defines vanity as "The quality of people who have too much pride in their own appearance, abilities, achievements, etc."[11] If plastic surgery is used for prideful reasons, or for the purpose of elevating oneself above others, than this is a vain use of the surgery. On the flip side, plastic surgery could be a legitimate way of taking care of ones body.

A KSL article that interviewed Dr. Brian Brzowski, a non-LDS plastic surgeon that practices in Ogden, Utah, provides some interesting insight into Mormon culture and plastic surgery:

“The people here aren’t doing it for vanity; they’re doing it in their minds to restore things, almost to the extent that it’s kind of a type of reconstructive procedure,” Brzowski said.

Brzowski noted that the “strong community that’s definitely a hallmark of Utah, the (LDS) Church, plays a role” in the numbers of procedures being done here. “Patients who have a positive experience with plastic surgery, with such a good community, they share and spread that information. You learn from your neighbor, 'Oh, my gosh, this problem I had was taken care of; it works.' The word spreads faster than a lot of other spots.”

“I think it fits in with the (culture’s idea of) taking care of yourself,” Brzowski said. “That to me is absolutely the answer and the explanation for why such a devout group of people here are so accepting of plastic surgery. They’re doing it for appropriate reasons, not for some vulgar type of motivation.[12]"'

Of course, even getting plastic surgery for the reasons that Dr. Brzowski points out can be taken to the extreme. Individuals should exercise wisdom and self-control when considering plastic surgery.


Question: Is it true that Utah has the highest personal bankruptcy rate in the United States?

Utah's high bankruptcy rate is not explained by the large numbers of LDS members in Utah

Is it true that Utah has the highest personal bankruptcy rate in the United States? If so, what does this say about Mormon attitudes toward wealth and materialism?

Utah's high bankruptcy rate is not explained by the large numbers of LDS members in Utah. All things being equal, being LDS reduces the risk of filing for bankruptcy. Critics who point to Utah's bankruptcy rate in order to condemn the Church are not portraying the data honestly.

In 2002, Utah's personal bankruptcy rate is the highest in U.S. According to an August 2002 Associated Press article: [13]

Utah residents are more likely to file for bankruptcy than residents of any other state, according to a financial research organization.

During the year ending March 31 [2002], roughly one of every 35 Utah households filed for bankruptcy, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute, a Virginia-based research organization. That far outpaced the national average of one for every 69 households.

However, the reasons for this are complex, as the article went on to explain:

There's no simple explanation, financial experts say.

Some point to obvious factors: Utah's per-capita income ranks 45th in the nation. Its families, many of them part of the Mormon faith, are larger than those in other states. The job market is weak. The cost of living is relatively high.

The state is also the nation's youngest — the median age is 27.1, compared to 35.3 nationally — and its birth rate is the highest. That means fewer workers are supporting more people.

Experts say it may be that people in Utah are living closer to the financial edge, so they struggle when hard times or a crisis arrives.

"Most of the time, the problem arises not because of wild consumerism, but because something really bad happens," said Darren Bush, an economist and law professor at the University of Utah.

And while Utah may have the highest bankruptcy rate, nationwide the overall rate is climbing, according to the article:

Utah may be hardest hit, but it is hardly alone. A record 1.5 million people filed for bankruptcy in the United States the past year. Filings for the second quarter of 2002 were also a record: more than 400,000, the most ever, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute.

Bush noted that irresponsible spending and over-reliance on credit cards contribute to financial distress.

"Utahns don't save, just like the rest of the nation doesn't save. The first line of defense is credit cards," Bush said.

Mormons less likely to file for bankruptcy

According to a 2007 study published in the Suffolk University Law Review:

Cultural characteristics often attributed to Mormons and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not account for Utah's bankruptcy rates. In fact, certain aspects of this culture, such as [Church] employment services and [Church] welfare, may even be shielding Mormons from the full brunt of Utah's current bankruptcy environment. [14]

In a Deseret News interview with the study's authors, one of them noted:

Our findings show that all Utahns, including Mormons, are suffering from an enormous bankruptcy glut, but Mormons are not experiencing it any more than any other Utahn. Our data reveal that in Utah non-Mormons are 4.6 percent more likely than their Mormon counterparts to find themselves in bankruptcy court. [15]

Counsel of LDS Church leaders

The advice and teaching of LDS general authorities has been consistent since the foundation of the Church: Latter-day Saints should get out of debt and stay out of debt. In October 2001 General Conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley taught:

The economy is particularly vulnerable. We have been counseled again and again concerning self-reliance, concerning debt, concerning thrift. So many of our people are heavily in debt for things that are not entirely necessary. When I was a young man, my father counseled me to build a modest home, sufficient for the needs of my family, and make it beautiful and attractive and pleasant and secure. He counseled me to pay off the mortgage as quickly as I could so that, come what may, there would be a roof over the heads of my wife and children. I was reared on that kind of doctrine. I urge you as members of this Church to get free of debt where possible and to have a little laid aside against a rainy day. We cannot provide against every contingency. But we can provide against many contingencies. [16]

Utah's high bankruptcy rate can be blamed, in part, on the failure of some Latter-day Saints to heed prophetic counsel.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks also cautioned members of the Church against the lures of materialism and "get-rich-quick" schemes:

Some have charged that modern Latter-day Saints are peculiarly susceptible to the gospel of success and the theology of prosperity. According to this gospel, success in this world—particularly entrepreneurial success—is an essential ingredient of progress toward the celestial kingdom. According to this theology, success and prosperity are rewards for keeping the commandments, and a large home and an expensive car are marks of heavenly favor. Those who make this charge point to the apparent susceptibility of Utahns (predominantly Latter-day Saints) to the speculative proposals of various get-rich-quick artists. They claim that many Utahns are gullible and overeager for wealth.

Certainly, Utah has had many victims of speculative enterprises. For at least a decade there have been a succession of frauds worked by predominantly Mormon entrepreneurs upon predominantly Mormon victims. Stock manipulations; residential mortgage financings; gold, silver, diamonds, uranium, and document investments; pyramid schemes—all have taken their toll upon the faithful and gullible. Whether inherently too trusting or just naively overeager for a shortcut to the material prosperity some see as the badge of righteousness, some Latter-day Saints are apparently too vulnerable to the lure of sudden wealth.

Objective observers differ on whether Latter-day Saints are more susceptible to get-rich-quick proposals than other citizens. However that may be, it is disturbing that there is no clear evidence that Latter-day Saints are less susceptible. Men and women who have heard and taken to heart the scriptural warnings against materialism should not be vulnerable to the deceitfulness of riches and the extravagant blandishments of its promoters. [17]


Question: Is the suicide rate in Utah higher than the national average?

On a geographical basis, Utah performs well on low rates of suicide

It is claimed by some that the suicide rate in Utah is higher than the national average, and that this demonstrates that being a Latter-day Saint is psychologically unhealthy.

On a geographical basis, Utah performs well on low rates of suicide. This may be correlated to the willingness of Utah's population to seek treatment, as evidenced by rates of anti-depressant medication prescription. (See LDS antidepressant use.) Religion is generally protective against suicide, and studies on Latter-day Saints bear this out.

It is unfortunate that critics wish to trivialize a serious problem such as suicide—a leading cause of death in the United States—by using it as a club to beat a specific religion. They do this without any data implicating the Church, and much data which argues against the patients' religion as a causative factor.

Religion is generally a patient's ally in mental health. Cheap slogans and finger pointing do nothing to help address the real problems faced by the mentally ill who are at risk of depression, schizophrenia, and other risk factors for suicide. While Utah does well in comparison to its neighbors, there is clearly much to be done to understand the western United States' higher suicide rates, and to help lower the rates of suicide and attempted suicide nationally and internationally.

Critics should avoid concluding that Utah data = Mormon data. This is often not true, and in this case the Mormon influence may be lowering Utah's suicide rates below those of its neighboring states.

If we follow the flawed logic of the critics, one is better off as an American by not being a Southern Baptist, since states in which they are the most common religion almost always have worse suicide rates than the nation as a whole. Clearly this logic is specious and ought to be rejected.

Note that the intermountain and western US has consistently higher suicide rates than most other states. The "suicide belt" shown here has been noted, however, since at least the 1980s (see Seiden, "Death in the West," (1984) cited below in endnotes). Source of data:McIntosh (2004), cited below. Map by Mike Parker for FAIR, © 2007.

As is often the case, critics do not tell the whole story.

The data underlying this attack come from U.S. death data. Studies of cause of death (using ICD-10 codes X60-X84, Y87.0) have been extracted by state. In 2002, Utah ranked #11 (tied with Oregon) in the nation for number of suicides per 100,000 people in the population.[18]

It has long been recognized that the intermountain United States — Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico — has a higher suicide rate than the rest of the country

It has long been recognized that the intermountain United States — Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico — has a higher suicide rate than the rest of the country, in what has been labeled the "suicide belt."[19] The reasons for this are not entirely clear, though numerous theories have been advanced.[20]

Of these high-risk states, Utah has one of the lowest suicide rates

The critics also do not tell us that of these high-risk states, Utah has one of the lowest suicide rates:

State Rank (1 is worst)
2002 data
Suicide rate per 100,000
2002 Data
Rank (1 is worst)
2004 data
Suicide rate per 100,000
2004 Data
Wyoming
1
21.1
5
17.4
Montana
3
20.2
2
18.9
Nevada
4
19.5
3
18.9
New Mexico
5
18.8
4
18.7
Arizona
6
16.2
11
15.3
Colorado
7
16.1
6
17.3
Idaho
9
15.2
7
16.9
Utah
11
14.7
9
15.6

(Note that relatively small numbers can make rankings fluctuate from year to year, and that aggregate data from several years is the most reliable measure of suicide rates.)[21]

Government studies on suicide rate do not cite religion or spiritual beliefs

Critics hope that by condemning Utah, readers will condemn the LDS Church by association.

However, government studies on suicide rate do not cite religion or spiritual beliefs. One cannot extrapolate from these data and presume that the LDS population is the "reason" for the higher suicide rates. Since the suicide rates are lower than the surrounding north western states, one could just as easily conclude that the LDS Church protects against suicide!

Critics also ignore that religion is generally a protective factor against suicide; religions provide both social support for people who are struggling, and religious beliefs which condemn suicide can be a disincentive to acting on suicidal thoughts.[22] Studies of "high religious groups" (including LDS) have shown benefits for emotional maturity, self-esteem, and lower depression rates.[23] Studies of countries with high levels of religious belief have shown a correlation with lower rates of suicide.[24]

Some studies of LDS patients and non-LDS patients have shown no differences in the rate of suicidality based on being homemakers and working outside of the home.[25] Suicide rates in LDS patients went down as their religious involvement went up.[26] Inactive LDS males experience a suicide rate roughly four times that of active LDS males. Non-LDS males experience a suicide rate roughly six times that of active LDS males.[27]:177 This same research shows that U.S. white males (aged 20-34) had suicide rates two and one-half to seven times that of active LDS males of equal age. Active LDS males, aged 15–19, have an equal suicide rate to that of national rates.[27]:179

Evangelical Christians and suicide

Since many of the critics who attack the Church on this issue are conservative Evangelical protestants, it is perhaps fair to ask how well Evangelicals fare on measures of mental health when the same shoddy methodology is applied to them.

If we play the same game as the evangelical critics, we could choose the states with high concentrations of conservative Protestants. There are thirteen states in which the Southern Baptist Convention has more congregations than any other denomination.[28] The suicide rates for these states are tabulated below:[29]

State Rank (1 is worst)
2004 data
Suicide rate per 100,000
2004 Data
US National average > 36 11.1
Alabama 24 12.1
Arkansas 20 13.1
Florida 15 13.7
Georgia 36 10.9
Kentucky 16 (tie) 13.5
Louisiana 27 11.9
Mississippi 23 12.1
Missouri 22 12.4
North Carolina 14 12.0
Oklahoma 14 14.4
South Carolina 19 11.5
Tennessee 18 (tie) 13.4
Texas 39 10.2
Utah 9 15.6

All but three of these states are in the top half of suicides, and all but two (Georgia at 10.9 and Texas at 10.2/100,000) are above the national average.

A closer look at the numbers shows that supposedly "Mormon" Utah is not that different from the "conservative Protestant Bible belt"

A closer look at the numbers shows that supposedly "Mormon" Utah is not that different from the "conservative Protestant Bible belt."

The relatively low numbers of suicides, when compared to the whole population, can mislead us. Utah ranks #9, and Texas fares best at #39. Utah's 2006 population was estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau at 2,550,063.[30] We can thus calculate:

The difference between the rates is:
15.6 - 10.2/100,000 = 5.4/100,000.

Number of "units" of 100,000 people: 2,550,063 / 100,000 = 25.5

Number of "additional" suicides compared to Texas: 25.5 units of /100,000 x 5.4/100,000 = 138 suicides

Thus, Utah's higher suicide rate results in 138 more suicides than it would if it had the rate of Texas. Each suicide is a tragedy, but these relatively small figures demonstrate how cautious we must be creating "single cause" models of a complex phenomenon like suicide, since small shifts in numbers (Utah had only 377 suicides in 2004, versus 2300 for Texas) can markedly impact rates.

It is far more likely, that (as with Utah) the higher-than-average suicide rates of the thirteen states examined above are due to factors which they share with the intermountain west, such as lower population densities, a more rural lifestyle, etc. And, just as active membership in the LDS faith is protective against suicide, so too membership in conservative Christian denominations likely has similar psychological benefits.


Question: Is the rate of antidepressant use in Utah much higher among Mormons than the general population?

While Utah does have the highest rate of antidepressant use in the United States, there is no evidence that this is because of stress from the LDS lifestyle and culture

It is claimed by some that the rate of antidepressant use is much higher among Mormons than the general population and that this is evidence that participation in the LDS Church is inordinately stressful due to pressure for Mormons to appear "perfect."

While Utah does have the highest rate of antidepressant use in the United States, there is no evidence that this is because of stress from the LDS lifestyle and culture. Credible research has shown that LDS women are actually more likely to identify themselves as "happy" than non-Mormon women. Religion generally (and the LDS religion specifically) has been repeatedly shown to be either beneficial or neutral for mental health and well-being.

Without further research, critics of the Church have no convincing evidence that higher anti-depressant use in Utah is caused by problems or difficulties associated with being a believing, practicing Latter-day Saint.

Background

Prescription drug use by state or region has been difficult to assess. In 2002 Express Scripts, one of the largest mail-order pharmaceutical providers in the United States, released their Prescription Drug Atlas, which shows prescription drug orders from their individual clients by state. A Los Angeles Times article on the study concluded that

[A]ntidepressant drugs are prescribed in Utah more often than in any other state, at a rate nearly twice the national average.... Other states with high antidepressant use were Maine and Oregon. Utah's rate of antidepressant use was twice the rate of California and nearly three times the rates in New York and New Jersey, the study showed. [31]

Are Latter-day Saint women in Utah more depressed?

What the study did not indicate is the reason antidepressant use was higher in Utah than in other states. Critics of the Church were quick to correlate this data with the high rate of LDS Church membership in Utah, thus blaming the Church and Mormon culture for the problem. Kent Ponder Ph.D, a Latter-day Saint, produced an article in which he correlates the use of antidepressants specifically with pressures placed on Mormon women. Ponder concludes:

This problem is clearly, closely and definitely linked to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Approximately 70% of Utahans are Mormons. Jim Jorgenson, director of pharmacy services for the University of Utah, confirmed that Utah has the highest percentage of anti-depressant use, hypothesizing that large families, larger in Utah than in other states, produce greater stress. (Large Utah families are primarily Mormon families).

The same LDS Church that works so well for many works very badly for many others, who become chronically depressed, especially women. [32]

Yet the study released by Express Scripts makes no claims as to why some states use more prescription drugs of one type or another. Far from being "clearly, closely and definitely" the fault of the LDS Church, Ponder has no evidence whatsoever; he is giving his belief and casting it as a proven fact.

The Express Scripts study includes a number of factors that Ponder overlooked in his paper that are helpful in assessing the situation:

  • Utah ranked seventh in total prescriptions overall. This indicates that Utahans are heavier than average users of all prescription medications.
  • Utah also ranked high in use of penicillin, insulin, thyroid hormones, antirheumatics, and anticonvulsants. Is Mormon culture also responsible for higher incidences of infection, diabetes, hypothyroidism, arthritis, and epilepsy?
  • Idaho and Arizona, the two other states in the "Mormon Corridor" with large LDS populations, did not rate high in antidepressant use. If LDS culture is responsible for high levels of stress leading to antidepressant use, why didn't those two states rank closer to Utah?

There are other possible factors outside the scope of the Express Scripts study that may also play a part here:

  • The results could indicate that Utahans are more enlightened about depression and mental illness and therefore don't stigmatize these conditions. In such a social climate more people are willing to seek help and are prescribed drugs.
  • The results could also indicate that Utah employers offer better mental health benefits than employers in other states, making access to mental health services and medications easier. [33]
  • Utah has a low rate of recreational alcohol use, especially among practicing Mormons who completely abstain from alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is commonly used by adults as an aid to stress relief, a "lubricant" for social interactions, and to "treat" (unwittingly or not) symptoms of anxiety, depression, and the like. Since many Mormons will not consider alcohol an "option," they could be more likely to seek help from a professional instead of turning to commercially available mood-altering substances.

Are Mormons more depressed than non-Mormons?

The critics' attitude toward members of the Church is nothing new. The same approach was taken by 19th-century critics:

In 1858 a writer from Harper's Weekly traveled to Utah and made the observation that the Latter-day Saint lifestyle turned LDS women into "haggard, weary, slatternly women, with lackluster eyes and wan, shapeless faces, hanging listlessly over their gates, or sitting idly in the sunlight, perhaps nursing their yelling babies—all such women looking alike depressed, degraded, miserable, hopeless, soulless" (G. L. Bunker and D. Binton, as cited in Judd 1987, p. 150). In 1860, Dr. Robert Bartholomew, the assistant surgeon of the United States Army, visited Utah and described LDS men as having "an expression of compounded sensuality, cunning suspicion, and a smirking self-conceit." While many anecdotal descriptions (such as the ones above), essays (see Burgoyne and Burgoyne 1978), and media specials have discussed the detrimental effects of the LDS lifestyle on mental health (especially that of LDS women), few have any grounding in research evidence. None of the studies included in this analysis that included depression as one of its variables indicated support for an unhealthy relationship between Mormonism and depression. [34]

Shortly after Mr. Ponder released his paper, Brigham Young University sociologist Sherrie Mills Johnson used data from national surveys to show that Mormon women are less likely to be depressed than American women in general. Johnson's conclusions upheld findings of some earlier studies that Mormons have no more depression than the nation's population as a whole. [35]

A good review of the literature on religion, mental health, and the Latter-day Saints specifically is now available on-line: Daniel K. Judd, "Religiosity, Mental Health, and the Latter-day Saints: A Preliminary Review of Literature (1923-95)," in Latter-day Saint Social Life: Social Research on the LDS Church of its Members, edited by James T. Duke, (Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1998) off-site the abstract of which reads:

Analysis of the data indicates that Latter-day Saints who live their lives consistent with their religious beliefs experience greater general well-being and marital and family stability, and less delinquency, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse than those who do not. This review of research also concludes that there is very little support for the assertion made by some that religious belief, practice, or affiliation is antithetical to mental health.... [36]

In religious people generally,

  • 59% of studies from 1985–1995 suggest a positive benefit on mental health; another 26% were neutral. [37]
  • "This most recent analysis of data (1985-95) indicates that high scores on measures of religiosity (activity, attitude, affiliation, and belief) are facilitative of marital and family stability, adjustment, and personal well-being. This most recent analysis also indicates that those who score high on measures of religiosity show the highest positive correlation with measures of mental health. Also, those who score higher on scales of "intrinsic" religiosity score better on measures of mental health than those with an "extrinsic" religious orientation. There also appears to be little difference in measures of mental pathology with respect to religious affiliation." [38]

That is, an active inner spiritual life is more protective than merely outward forms of religious observance.

For studies involving members of the Church of Jesus Christ specifically:

  • 70% were positive; 24% had neutral effects on mental health (thus, only 6% showed a negative effect); [39]
  • LDS women were less depressed than other women; LDS men were no different from non-LDS men. [40]

Thus, the available research does not support the contention that religious people have more mental health problems than non-religious people, or that being a Latter-day Saint religious person is mentally unhealthy. If anything, being LDS is protective against mental health difficulties, which is in keeping with the general consensus that religion is psychologically beneficial.

Correlation or causation?

It is easy to find a correlation between two things:

  1. Utah has many Mormons and uses more antidepressants than other states.
  2. Roosters crow when the sun rises.
  3. IV drug abuse has increased as digital computers have become more common.

However, correlations do not necessarily imply causation:

  1. The suggestion that religion in general, or the Church of Jesus Christ in particular, causes depression has been examined and found to be false: in the vast majority of studies, religion either has no effect on mental health, or improves it.
  2. Roosters do not cause the sun to rise; if anything the reverse is true.
  3. IV drug use and the presence of digital computers are not likely related at all--they are two different social phenomena.

Correlations are easy to come by. They may suggest causes for further study, but they mean little by themselves. They prove nothing.

Critics like to point to a correlation between a high LDS population and a high anti-depressant use, and then assume that this is causative. But, they either do not know—or do not want us to know—that the causation which the correlation suggests has been tested, and has not supported the conclusion they wish to draw.

Critics who use this approach are therefore often guilty of at least one logical fallacy:

Other evidence about levels of happiness in Utah

Mitchell L, Frank MR, Harris KD, Dodds PS, et al. (2013) The Geography of Happiness: Connecting Twitter Sentiment and Expression, Demographics, and Objective Characteristics of Place. PLoS ONE 8(5): e64417. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064417 http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0064417

If we are going to use Utah as a surrogate measure for Mormons (something which may not be proper), we should also consider evidence on the other side of the coin.

A 2013 paper found that, based upon Twitter metrics, Utah is in the top five most happy states:

The happiest 5 states, in order, are: Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Utah and Vermont. The saddest 5 states, in order, are: Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland, Delaware and Georgia. [41]

If we are to blame the Church for Utah's antidepressant use, then we must also credit the Church for Utah's over-all happiness.


Question: In Utah, are more people leaving the Church than are joining the Church?

Such claims are incorrect, according to figures from the U.S. Census and the LDS Church Almanac

It is claimed that "Within the state of Utah, the number of Mormons has steadily declined over the past 10 years," and that more people are leaving the Church than are joining the Church. This belief led the producers of the anti-Mormon video Search for the Truth to claim that "within Utah, we are doing a fairly good job of combating Mormonism" and therefore "the Mormon Church is vulnerable" to anti-Mormon criticisms.

But such authors are simply incorrect, according to figures from the U.S. Census and the LDS Church Almanac:

  Utah: Total Utah: LDS Utah: Non-LDS
31-Dec-1990 1,722,850 1,236,242 486,608
31-Dec-2005 2,469,585 1,752,467 717,118
15-year growth 43.34% 41.76% 47.37%
annualized growth 2.89% 2.78% 3.16%

As the table shows, the LDS population in Utah is growing—it is just growing at a slower rate than the non-LDS population. The primary reason for this is the high non-LDS immigration into Utah over the last two decades.

According to a recent article in the Salt Lake Tribute:

Utah's ongoing religious diversification has little to do with the LDS Church or its teachings, but rather is a reflection of the economy.... When economic growth goes up, minority population goes up, and this is kind of a code word for non-Mormons.... While continuing to grow in actual members, the LDS share of the state population showed a slow but constant decline every year from 1989 to 2004.[42]

Data Sources


Notes

  1. This criticism got its start on the Internet. The source of the data upon which it is based is: Benjamin Edelman published a study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives (vol 23, Number 1; p 209-220) on Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment? The data showed that Utah had the highest number of subscriptions (5.47 per thousand home broadband users). Since Utah also has the largest concentration of Mormons, it has been suggested that there is a correlation between the rate of adult subscriptions and the large percentage of Mormons in Utah.
  2. Benjamin Edelman, "[http://www.people.hbs.edu/bedelman/papers/redlightstates.pdf Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?," Journal of Economic Perspectives 23/1 (Winter 2009): 209–220.
  3. Tom Stringham, "Rethinking Mormons and Porn: Utah 40th in US in New Porn Data," Virtuous Society blog, 16 April 2014.
  4. Pornhub.com posting, http://www.pornhub.com/insights/red-versus-blue-us-states/
  5. Stringham, "Rethinking Mormons and Porn."
  6. Stringham, "Rethinking Mormons and Porn."
  7. http://www.forbes.com/2007/11/29/plastic-health-surgery-forbeslife-cx_rr_1129health.html
  8. http://www.forbes.com/2007/11/29/plastic-health-surgery-forbeslife-cx_rr_1129health.html
  9. http://www.ksl.com/?sid=17790344
  10. http://www.sltrib.com/53909710-200/population-lds-county-utah.html
  11. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vanity
  12. http://www.ksl.com/index.php?nid=148&sid=16938771
  13. "Utah residents are more likely to file for bankruptcy than residents of any other state," washingtonpost.com, 23 August 2002.
  14. Ezekial Johnson and James Wright, "Are Mormons Bankrupting Utah? Evidence from the Bankruptcy Courts," Suffolk University Law Review 40/3 (2007): 633. PDF link
  15. "No LDS bankruptcy link? Study says nonmembers have more money woes," Deseret Morning News, 28 June 2007. off-site
    (See also "LDS faith, bankruptcy: No link," Salt Lake Tribune, 28 June 2007. off-site)
  16. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Times in Which We Live," Ensign (November 2001), 9. off-site off-site
  17. Dallin H. Oaks, Pure in Heart (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 83–84.
  18. K.D. Kochanek, S.L. Murphy, R.N. Anderson, C. Scott "Deaths: Final data for 2002. National Vital Statistics Reports," 53/5 (2004), Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. DHHS Publication No. (PHS) 2005-1120. (p. 92, Table 29) [data are by place of residence]. PDF link
  19. Matt Wray, "Suicide Trends and Prevention in Nevada," Dept of Sociology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas from Justice & Democracy Forum, 5 November 2004. (Accessed 30 August 2007). off-site
  20. Some suggested reasons have included: lower population density, greater proportion of males, larger Hispanic and American-Indian populations, heavier alcohol consumption: See Richard H. Seiden, "Death in the West — A Regional Analysis of the Youthful Suicide Rate," West J Med 140/6 (June 1984): 969–973. off-site Risk is also thought to increase with weak social institutions, low social capital, areas of rapid population growth, gun ownership and a "frontier culture" of individualism and self-reliance: see Wray, cited above.
  21. John L. McIntosh, "Rate, Number, and Ranking of Suicide for Each U.S.A. State*, 2004," American Association of Suicidology (accessed 30 August 2007). PDF link
  22. See, for example, "Suicide Prevention: Scientific Information: Risk and Protective Factors," National Institute of Mental Health off-site; AM Schapman, HM Inderbitzen-Nolan, "The role of religious behaviour in adolescent depressive and anxious symptomatology," J Adolesc 25 (2002): 631-643; S Cotton, E Larkin, A. Hoopes, et al, "The impact of adolescent spirituality on depressive symptoms and health risk behaviors," J Adolesc Health 36 (2005): 529e7–529.e14; DB Larson & HG Koenig, "Is God good for your health? The role of spirituality in medical care," Cleve Clin J Med 67/2 (2000): 83–84; DBSJ Larson & ME McCullough, Scientifc research on spirituality and health: a consensus report (Rockville, MD: National Institute of Healthcare Research, 1997).
  23. LC Jensen, J Jensen, T Wiederhold, "Religiosity, denomination, and mental health among young men and women," Psychological Reports 72 (3 Pt 2) on (1 June 1993) 1157–1158.
  24. "In More Religious Countries, Lower Suicide Rates." Gallup survey analysis, 3 July 2008. off-site
  25. DC Spendlove, DW West, WM Stanish, "Risk factors and the prevalence of depression in Mormon women," Soc Sci Med 18/6 (1984):491–495.
  26. SC Hilton, GW Fellingham, JL Lyon, "Suicide rates and religious commitment in young adult males in Utah," American Journal of Epidemiology 155/5 (1 March 2002): 413–419.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Gilbert W. Fellingham, Kyle McBride, H. Dennis Tolley, and Joseph L. Lyon, "Statistics on Suicide and LDS Church Involvement in Males Age 15-34," Brigham Young University Studies 39 no. 2 (2000), 177.
  28. Largest Religious Groups in the United States: Religious Bodies which have the Most Congregations of any Denomination in One or More States, 1990," adherents.com (Accessed 30 August 2007). off-site
  29. John L. McIntosh, "Rate, Number, and Ranking of Suicide for Each U.S.A. State*, 2004," American Association of Suicidology (accessed 30 August 2007). PDF link
  30. U.S. Census Bureau, 2006 Population Estimate (Utah). (Accessed 30 August 2007). off-site
  31. Julie Cart, "Study Finds Utah Leads Nation in Antidepressant Use," Los Angeles Times, 20 February 2002, A6.
  32. Kent Ponder, Ph.D., "Mormon Women, Prozac® and Therapy," unpublished, 2003. Italics in the original; author's capitalization ("Latter-Day") and spelling errors ("Utahns") retained. [It is FairMormon's policy not to link to critical web sites, but Ponder's paper can be easily found with a Google search.]
  33. The Express Scripts study did not include prescriptions ordered through Medicare and Medicaid, so the data include only orders filled through employer-based insurance plans.
  34. Daniel K. Judd, "Religiosity, Mental Health, and the Latter-day Saints: A Preliminary Review of Literature (1923-95)," in Latter Day Saint Social Life: Social Research on the LDS Church and its Members (Religious Studies Center Specialized Monograph Series, Vol. 12), edited by James T. Duke, (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University & Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1998), 486–487. ISBN 1570083967. ISBN 978-1570083969. off-site
  35. "Expert: Mormon women less depressed," USA Today, 2 April 2004 (Associated Press article). off-site
  36. Judd, 473.
  37. Judd, 477.
  38. Judd, 477–478.
  39. Judd, 478.
  40. Judd, 488.
  41. Mitchell L, Frank MR, Harris KD, Dodds PS, et al., "The Geography of Happiness: Connecting Twitter Sentiment and Expression, Demographics, and Objective Characteristics of Place," PLoS ONE 8(5) [May 2013]: e64417.
  42. Matt Canham, "Mormon portion of Utah population steadily shrinking," Salt Lake Tribune (22 June 2006). off-site (accessed 20 March 2007)