Utah has the highest percentage of Utahns in the entire country . . .

“Utah has the nation’s highest rate of depression among thirty-seven-year old ambidextrous Battlestar Galactica fans named Zeb.” (That’s based on rock-solid statistical statistickizing.) However, “Utah [also] has the lowest rate of Tuesday afternoon divorce of any mountainous state located west of the Mississippi.” What are we to make of such statistics? In any given week, from current members or disaffected members or both, you may hear statistical claims made about rates of divorce, drug use, depression, spousal and child abuse, Prozac use, Satanism, teen pregnancy, and a dozen other things. A few of these statistics might even be true. And they all seem tied to normative claims about the relative merit of the church itself.

So what should we take away from the fact that Utah (maybe) has the [highest/lowest/in-betweenest] incidence of [sex/drugs/rock and roll/Satanism/green jello consumption/blogging/and so forth] in the [country/corridor/hemisphere/universe]? How much of the collective habits and attributes of Utahns should be tied to the church?

If Utah has high rates of depression, is it because of the church? If Utah has low rates of divorce, is that because of the church? How do we decide our yesses and noes? Just how much of the demographic goods and ills of one state’s populace can or should be laid at the feet of the church — and why?

35 comments for “Utah has the highest percentage of Utahns in the entire country . . .

  1. May 23, 2006 at 7:32 pm

    At least 99% of all Utahns who filed in 2005 were married at the time that filing was made.

    However, I’ve heard on several occasions that Utah has one of the highest divorce rates in the country and that a contributing factor was that so many people are preassured to marry young when they are still rather immature. Utah supposedly also has the lowest average marriage age.

  2. DHofmann
    May 23, 2006 at 8:17 pm

    “How do we decide our yesses and noes?”

    For any blessings we receive, we thank the Lord. Anything bad that happens to a person is due to that person’s unworthiness (unless the person is Job).

  3. mullingandmusing (m&m)
    May 23, 2006 at 8:38 pm

    I think we need to take these stats with a grain of salt. For example, is Prozac use in isolation a good indicator of rates of depression? What about alcohol or other depression-management techniques that aren’t as widely used in the Church?

  4. Frank McIntyre
    May 23, 2006 at 8:48 pm

    Good post, Kaimi. I have to run but here are some thoughts.

    1. Adjust for demographics. Any place with lots of 30-somethings may well have higher divorce rates, for example. If teens commit more suicide, having more teens will up the suicide rate, etc, etc.

    2. Look at Colorado and Arizona and the rest of the western states. They have far fewer Mormons so if the trend shows there, it might be worth a second look before calling it a mormon thing.

    3. Recognize that states differ for lots of reasons, owing to having different laws and professional practices. Thus Utah being high or low in x may well just be a quirk unrelated to Mormonism.

    4. Think about whether or not the effect is a “tail outcome”. For example, it seems reasonable that very bad outcomes may be more common in Utah if non-church safety nets are weaker. One sees this in the BoM where the wicked in Zarahemla were really wicked, even if the righteous were very good. High rates of very bad outcomes would, in some sense, validate that story but not tell us much about how being a member of the Church affects people on average. Thus, Utah may have slightly above average mean outcomes, but a higher variance.

    5. Take it all with a grain of salt.

  5. manaen
    May 23, 2006 at 9:09 pm

    Re: divorce rates and marriage age.

    The Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2006 ed, Table 117 shows Utah’s 2004 divorce rate was 3.9 / 1k population vs national average of 3.7. 18 states had a higher rate, 24 states had a lower rate, 2 had the same rate, and data wasn’t available for 6 states that year. It’s interesting to note that each of the 6 states contiguous with Utah had a higher rate. The highest rate was 6.3 in Arkansas and D.C. had the lowest rate: 1.7. It would be interesting to see the states’ rates per 1k *married households* instead of per 1k *people* — D.C. also had one of the lowest marriage rates per 1k people.

    The Statistical Abstract doesn’t give ages at marriage. However, the Utah’s 2003 Baseline Statewide Survey of Marriage and Divorce, p.1 reports that, “Utahns marry an average of 3.5 years younger (Utah men—23.0, women—21.0) than the national median age (U.S. men—26.6, women—24.5) at first marriage.”

  6. APJ
    May 23, 2006 at 9:21 pm

    Very good points Kaimi:

    I take it you’re addressing both whether or not certain statistics that get thrown around are in fact true (read accurate, dependable); and to the extent they are true, what these statistics truly imply about the church.

    As to the first question (whether the statistic is realiable), I think just in the interest of being honest with others and yourself you should do a good faith evaluation of it (i.e. consider the source, consider exactly what the statistic means, consider the date of the study, etc).

    As to the second (what these statistics imply about the church), well, I just think you just have to use the best sense you have, and realize that you may be wrong. It just depends on what the statistic is, too. For example, I don’t think that it would be wrong to correlate a higher ‘10% or higher charitable donation in Utah’ stat or ‘higher birth rate in Utah’ or even ‘youngest state’ stat with the church. It’s something the church emphasizes, something we take pride in even, etc. To the extent that depression may be higher in Utah, since depression is more a chemical imbalance, it is not as appropriate to make a correlation with Utah’s high rate with the Church. But again, these are just my impressions using my common sense; reasonable minds can differ; and unreasonable minds will almost certainly do so.

  7. annegb
    May 23, 2006 at 9:30 pm

    I live in Utah, and I’m often depressed. Almost every woman I know suffers some type of stress and/or depression. There are a few crazies out there who are totally happy, but the rest of us are basket cases.

  8. Adam Greenwood
    May 23, 2006 at 10:58 pm

    My rule of thumb is that all good Utah stats are because of the Mormons, and all bad ones aren’t. Unless the bad stats are things I want to use for polemical purposes in arguments with my fellow Mormons, in which case they are because of the Mormons. I hope we can all get behind this simple rule.

  9. Seth R.
    May 23, 2006 at 11:33 pm

    Ooh, ooh!

    And don’t forget bankruptcy!

    Seriously though, I’m soo over statistics. I used to think they were cool. But now they’re just annoying.

    “Statistics” (noun): the art of arranging the data to support your pet position.

  10. May 24, 2006 at 1:01 am

    One of my faculty lecturers informed us that, within ten years, ninety percent of the Utah population will be either below eighteen or above sixty-five years of age. That means, according to my professor, only ten percent of the Utah population will have to work support the other ninety percent. This is obviously due to the fact that Mormons reproduce prodigiously–and to the fact that those little whipper-snapping Mormons turn eighteen, serve missions, and return having suddenly aged fifty years.

  11. May 24, 2006 at 1:04 am

    I think the best reaction to statistics is to ignore them. Depending on exact phrasing of questions and such, you can get surveys and statistics to seem to say just about anything you want. Considered out of context, statistics can convincingly tell all kinds of lies. I think we probably worry too much about statistics. If we consume more prozac, for instance, is that because we are sadder or is it because those around us are generally happier and we feel a bit left out? There is always more to the story than numbers.

  12. May 24, 2006 at 1:21 am

    Whenever I think of statistics, polls and reports I think of an old Punch cartoon. A group of business men are looking at a poster with a tube of toothpaste on it, and the one up front is saying “Alright, do we want the caption to say “now with less xylitol” or do we want it to say “with more xylitol than our leading competitors”?”
    More on topic, I do think that far too many people take any statistic about Utah to be a reflection on the church, which is unfortunate. But I wonder this, if every non-member in Utah was taking prozac, and none of the members were, would that still be enough depressed people to give utah the highest rate of depression or not?

  13. Frank McIntyre
    May 24, 2006 at 1:33 am

    Seth– when you get done ignoring statistics, I wrote a paper on bankruptcy and then did a post on the Utah numbers a couple months ago.


    “One of my faculty lecturers informed us that, within ten years, ninety percent of the Utah population will be either below eighteen or above sixty-five years of age.”

    Wow. An impressive commentary on the quality of faculty lecturers (or maybe just faculty, really…).

  14. Mark Butler
    May 24, 2006 at 3:10 am

    One should at least consider the possibility that a higher incidence of ‘depression’ is *partly* due to genetic factors, and not just stress, unrealistic expectations, and other social ills.

  15. John Mansfield
    May 24, 2006 at 8:40 am

    Jim Wallace of the University of Maryland, a respected veteran fluid dynamics turbulence experimentalist, gave a seminar to our department some years ago on some wind tunnel data he had gathered. On the matter of comparing theory with data, it came up that some theorists assign getter truth value to his data than he does. He puts theory to work in the validation of his data. The somewhat humorous conclusion offered by one faculty member was “Compare the good data with the good theories.”

    There is actually something to that concept. Good data and good theories take work to establish, but they are worth the work. Count me as opposed to lumping all statistical work together and dismissing it with an anti-intellectual laziness about discerning good work from mediocre.

  16. greenfrog
    May 24, 2006 at 9:13 am

    Once one gets past the important filtering and sifting process Frank McIntyre notes so that we really do have statistically valid comparison data (including the sifting of differences between “Mormon” and “Utahn”), then we have statistically valid data regarding Mormons. At that point, good or bad, don’t we have “fruits” by which we are (and should be) known?

  17. annegb
    May 24, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    You guys, I wasn’t kidding, we are a depressed and stressed out people. We compare and we judge and we work ourselves into the ground trying to live up to the norms and mores of Mormonism or we fight against them. There is constant pressure here.

  18. manaen
    May 24, 2006 at 12:40 pm

    we are a depressed and stressed out people. We compare and we judge and we work ourselves into the ground trying to live up to the norms and mores of Mormonism or we fight against them. There is constant pressure here.

    Anne, I believe we did a couple innings last year on this, but I found incredible release from it in “Confronting the Myth of Self-Esteem” by (Sister) Ester Rasband. It’s out of print but Amazon.com’s used-book section always has clean copies. There’s time, it’s just doing what you can and accepting that. Line upon line… widow’s mite… our days prolonged according to God’s will to give us time to repent (2N22:21)…

  19. May 24, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    Who’s getting married nowadays?

  20. Mike
    May 24, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    Two comments:

    If depression has a strong biological basis, then a very small number of polygamist patriarchs with the genetics for it could have an enormous founders influence on the population of Utah especially since many Utahns didn’t move around as much as the rest of the country until after WWII. People also ignore the idea of linkage; there might be some other desirable characteristics that are linked to depression that were part of what helped those patriarchs survive.

    I recently listened to an epidemiologist from the CDC with a Masters degree discuss a very simple project with one of my friends who has a Ph.D in epidemiology and some background in Statistics which are two separate fields. I was impressed with how easy it is to distort and mess up the data. The devil is in the details of the numbers. That doesn’t excuse us from the hard work of getting the correct answer. It only points out the difficulty of finding the answer to what seems like a simple question.

  21. Mike
    May 24, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    #17 annegb:

    People with severe depression need professional intervention. We strap our kids in a car seat with the hope of reducing their injuries in a collision. Yet suicide takes a heavy toll. and many of the people who die have never been treated for depression.

    Many people have milder feelings of depression. These folks can also benefit from various kinds of therapy. I think one of the most effect approaches to what I see in my Utah relatives that I think you are describing is called cognitive therapy. some studies show it to be as effect ive a medications in the short term and better in the lonmg term.

    My favorite book is by David Burns, a psychiatrist, caled “The Feel Good Handbook.” At first I thought this was some kind of hippie philosophy or other such nonsense. But it is not. He believes that how we think can have a big influence on how we feel over time.

    I can not adequately summarize his work but he describes 10 forms of what he describs as twisted thinking that when indulged in leads to depression. If we can identify these pattterns inour thoughts and then stop them, our mood will be better. Se how many of them are common among your Mormon friends. See how many of them are demonstrated on this blog. See how many of them are comon among any other group of people, not just Mormons.

    Here are the ten forms of twisted thinking leading to depression:

    1. All or nothing thinking (black and white)
    2. Overgeneralization (always/never)
    3. Mental filter (focus on 1 negative detail)
    4. Discount the positive ( one good thing is not enough)
    5. Jumping to conclusions

  22. Mike
    May 24, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    whoops- I hit the submit button by mistake.

    Here are the other 5

    6. Magnification/minimization
    7. Emotional reasoning (I feel __, therefore it must be true)
    8. Too many shoulds or should-y thinking or musterbation
    9. Labeling (you idiot!)
    10. Personalization of blame ( my fault when others fail)

    For this to work, you have to read his book. More importantly in the book he gives you these little exercises, or assignments, or homework. If you don’t do the assignments, it is like algebra, it really doesn’t work. it won’t change the way you think and your mood doesn’t improve.

    I see some of these twisted ways of thinking as common among Mormons. But I also think that there is nothing about this cognitive therapy that is counter to the fundamental teahings of the gospel. I can easily imagine President Hinckley telling me the same things that are in the book.

    We should stop dwelling on whether we are better than others or worse and correct problems where we see them. The advantages of the gospel are great enough that they outweigh some tendencies to depression, real or statistically created, especially if these tendencies can be corrected with a little work.

    My critics can probably say (jumping to conclusions) that maybe I should ( should-y thinking)follow my own advice. (You hypocrite-labeling) I am not immune to relapses into this kind of thinking.

  23. Seth R.
    May 24, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    Actually Frank, I am interested in reading your paper. I was hoping you’d announce when it was finished.

    I remember your post on the issue as well. I’m currently of two minds on the whole subject of American bankruptcy. I’ve read the opinions of Proffessor Elizabeth Warren (which seem to have been adopted wholesale by the bankruptcy bar). I’ve also read counter-arguments from Professor Todd Zywicki. Though Zywicki makes me a bit uneasy, I don’t think Warren, or the NACBA have really succeeded in addressing his criticisms. So I’m not completely conviced one way or the other on the issues.

    I threw out the bankruptcy statistic merely as a light-hearted reference to another popular anti-Utah statistic. I don’t think it has any more validity than any of the others. And valid or not, I have no idea what sort of lessons we are supposed to draw from it.

  24. May 24, 2006 at 6:40 pm

    When I look for Mormon statistics, I try to stick to just Provo and Rexburg — they’re the largest “overwhelmingly Mormon” places I know of. Utah is too diluted for anything to be particularly church-connected anymore, but comparing Provo with a similarly sized city in Arizona or Nevada and two in states like Ohio or Pennsylvania ought to give you a pretty good idea of what’s related to region and what’s related to religion and what’s related to something totally different. Same goes with Rexburg plus a similarly sized area in, say, Minnesota, and then ones in places like New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

    If you’re looking at Utah, unless the numbers are really, really really abnormal as compared with any other state in the union, and on the order of 75% versus less than 45% everywhere else, I don’t think you can say much of anything about Mormonness.

    (and even after all of that, all you can really talk about is Utah/Idaho Mormons, who comprise a small portion of the overall Mormon population, and undoubtedly differ in all kinds of ways from any other region’s Mormons, and if the rumors I hear are true, they differ in very specific ways from almost all other regions’ Mormons…)

    And statistics can teach us valuable things about our society — we just have to understand what they do and do not say, and how they were gathered, and so forth. The more closely you are aligned to your surrounding culture, and the more power or influence you have over any group of people, the more useful they’ll be to you on a pracitcal level (example: as a homeschooling family largely disconnected from any particular group and generally not participating in government testing, we’ve never paid much attention to concerns over Ohio’s 9th grade proficiency test passage rates.) But it’s always fun to tell people random things about your community (Our per-capita income averages out to $46,000 a year! Only .04% of our community self-identified as Asian on the 1990 Census, but that went up to .85% in 2000!) And I consider that a net good.

  25. May 24, 2006 at 7:51 pm

    I think the standard argument that the church membership and Utah statistics are connected is simply reaching for things to attack the church.

    With that said the fact that the Mormon “lifestyle” and large number of them in Utah should have an effect(even if slight) on those numbers. What that means is up to the reader to decide.

  26. cchrissyy
    May 24, 2006 at 9:55 pm

    24) but with such high student populations, you’d get some odd statistics too.
    Income skewwed lower for all the folks living off no income (just loans for now),
    # children skewed lower by so many newlyweds and people having just their first baby and then leaving town.

  27. May 24, 2006 at 10:18 pm

    Be careful, Kaimi. Your headline may not be true (though I’ll give you that it probably is). Suppose that many native-born Utahns have moved to a state with a lower population, like Nevada. Suppose also that many of those who now live in Utah aren’t Utahns, but transplants. (After how long does a transplant “take,” making you a native? Perhaps Jacob 2 is helpful.) It is conceivable that the percentage of Utahns in the other state would be greater than that in Utah.

  28. dsilversmith
    May 25, 2006 at 12:49 am

    I once read (in an E-mail so it must be true) that 87.5% of all statistics are made up on the spot to back up there point of verw and the othere 12.5% are studyed first and then made up.

  29. May 25, 2006 at 8:43 am

    Brother Jim, I checked the 2000 census migration data. The 1,4005,177 in Utah who were born in Utah made up 62.9% of that state’s population. There were 583,644 Utah-born found in the rest of the nation. Those states with the largest number of Utah born were California (116,523), Idaho (58,583), Arizona (56,465), Nevada (46,129), and Washington (41,080). The states with more than one percent of their population born in Utah were Idaho (4.5%), Wyoming (3.8%), Nevada (2.3%), and Arizona (1.1%).

  30. May 25, 2006 at 9:56 am

    John Mansfield: You show that a hypothetical is not the same as what is true. I’m shocked!

  31. May 27, 2006 at 6:36 am

    I think all the bad Utah statistics are because of the Republicans.

  32. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 27, 2006 at 11:28 am

    When I lived in South Beach, I was called to the Dade County court house in Miami proper for jury duty. The defendent was a black man and we prospective jurors were being questioned by each of the opposing counsels.

    The defendant’s counsel asked us: “Do you think a black man’s more likely to have committed a crime than a white man?”

    I answered: “Well um statistically I suppose.”

    The counsel said, “Thank you for your candor!”

    A couple of prospective jurors later, a woman, when asked the same question, said: “I work with statistics for a living and I know that they can be made to say whatever you want them to. So, no, I don’t believe it more likely for a black man to be guilty of crime than a white man.”

    I was among the first wave to be dismissed.

  33. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 27, 2006 at 11:58 am

    My good friend’s ethnically Jewish and loves Court TV; and occasionally he’ll note how Jews are known but extremely rarely to commit certain crimes. Yet, according to the woman immediately above’s knowledge of statistics, my friend’s assertion as his should be considered nonsensical?

  34. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 27, 2006 at 11:59 am

    ex out “as his”

  35. Kimball L. Hunt
    May 27, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    If I was counsel (well — not that I’m a lawyer) for some Utahn, Enron type guy who was active in Republican politics, I’d wiley-fully [sic] ask prospective jurors: “Do you think a Utahn indicted for securities fraud would more likely be Republican or Democrat?” lol. And, of course, during trial, I’d paint my client’s social standing in against the prosecutor’s depiction of him as a “no good” and during closing arguement my mantra would be, “If the picture don’t fit, you must acquit!” (But there’s no real punchline in this second part. O well.)

    In colonial Virginia a defendent could still escape trial for assualts and the like by merely demonstrating he could read! — the diff between a genteel swordsmen and a ruffian mobsters still being determined by relative access to education. And more recently, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI at first went more after bankrobbers than more genteel, organized crime conspirators — which were claimed by him actually not to exist?

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