July 24, 2009

A Portrait of Mormons in the U.S.

In Utah, July 24 is Pioneer Day, a state holiday commemorating the day in 1847 when the first Mormon settlers, led by Brigham Young, entered the Salt Lake Valley. Today, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other Mormon groups make up 58% of Utah’s population and 1.7% of the total U.S. adult population, according to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life in 2007. The religious tradition, founded in the United States in 1830, has come under increased public scrutiny in recent years as a result of prominent Mormons in the news, such as Mitt Romney, a 2008 Republican presidential primary candidate and former governor of Massachusetts, and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the majority leader in the U.S. Senate, as well as the involvement of the LDS church in political issues, such as the recent debate over gay marriage in California.

A new analysis of the Landscape Survey data reveals that as a group Mormons are among the most devout and conservative religious people in the country. The Mormon community is also internally diverse, with differences according to levels of religious commitment and educational attainment, regions of the country where Mormons live, and between lifelong Mormons and those who have converted to the faith. This report explores Mormons’ unique place in the American religious landscape and is divided into three parts: demographic characteristics, religious beliefs and practices, and social and political views.

I. Demography

Geographic Distribution
Age, Gender and Family Structure
Race
Education and Income
Demographic Characteristics of Converts to Mormonism

Mormons make up 1.7% of the American adult population, a proportion that is comparable in size to the U.S. Jewish population. By contrast, members of evangelical Protestant churches and Catholics each make up roughly a quarter of the adult population (26.3% and 23.9%, respectively), and 16.1% of Americans say they are unaffiliated with any particular religion. Mormons are more numerous, however, than members of other small religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses (0.7%), Buddhists (0.7%), Muslims (0.6%) and Hindus (0.4%).

The vast majority of those who identify with the Mormon tradition (96%) say they are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Just 1% belong to the Community of Christ, and the remainder do not specify a particular Mormon group. This report analyzes Mormons as a whole.
U.S. Religious Landscape

Geographic Distribution

The Mormon population in the U.S. is heavily concentrated in the West (76%). In fact, roughly one-third of all American Mormons (35%) live in Utah, the state founded by its early leaders. An additional 13% live in California while 7% reside in Idaho, 5% in Nevada and 4% each in Oregon and Arizona. Only about one-in-ten Mormons (12%) live in the South (including 4% who reside in Texas), 7% live in the Midwest and just 4% reside in the Northeast.

Geographic Distribution

Age, Gender and Family Structure

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Mormons tend to be slightly younger than the general population. Two-thirds (66%) are under age 50, compared with 59% of the public as a whole. Only two major U.S. religious traditions (Hinduism and Islam) and the religiously unaffiliated have populations younger than Mormons. At the other end of the age spectrum, by contrast, are mainline Protestants and Jews. Among each of these groups, half (51%) are 50 or older.

A majority of Mormons are women (56%). Women make up more than half of other major Christian traditions as well, including Catholics (54%) and members of the evangelical (53%) and historically black Protestant (60%) traditions. By contrast, majorities of the major non-Christian traditions in the U.S. as well as the unaffiliated tend to be male.

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Nearly three-quarters of Mormons (71%) are married, compared with just more than half (54%) among the general population. Only Hindus (78%) are more likely than Mormons to be married. Mormons (83%) and Hindus (90%) also are the most likely of all the major religious traditions to be married to someone of the same faith. This compares with 63% of all married couples who are married to someone of the same faith, while 37% are in religiously mixed marriages (including Protestants married to a spouse from a different Protestant denominational family).

Mormons are widely known for having large families and, indeed, about half of all Mormons (49%) have children under age 18 living at home, with one-in-five (21%) saying they have three or more children at home. Only Muslims are similarly likely to have large families: 47% of Muslims have at least one child living at home and 15% have three or more. Among the population overall, by contrast, only about a third (35%) have children who are minors living at home and just 9% have three or more.

Race

Race, Ethnicity and Nativity
Nearly nine-in-ten Mormons in the U.S. (86%) are white, compared with 71% of the general population. Just 3% of Mormons are African-American and 7% are Latino. Other predominantly white religious groups in the U.S. include Jews (95% white), members of mainline Protestant churches (91% white) and Orthodox Christians (87% white). Among Catholics, by contrast, only two-thirds are white (65%) and about one-third are Latino (29%). Jehovah’s Witnesses and especially Muslims are among the most racially diverse religious traditions in the U.S.; less than half of each tradition is white (48% and 37%, respectively).

Immigrants to the U.S. make up a significantly smaller proportion of Mormons than they do of the population overall. Only 7% of Mormons were born outside the United States, while among the general population, 12% were born outside the U.S. The Mormon community closely resembles the mainline, evangelical and historically black Protestant traditions in this regard; other religious traditions tend to have higher proportions of immigrants in their ranks.

Education and Income

Education and Income
Mormons are significantly more likely than the population overall to have some college education. Six-in-ten Mormons (61%) have at least some college education, compared with half of the overall population. However, the proportion of Mormons who graduate from college (18%) or receive postgraduate education (10%) is similar to the population as a whole (16% and 11%, respectively).

Similarly, Mormons are slightly more likely to be in a middle income bracket than the general population; 38% of Mormons report earning between $50,000 and $100,000 annually, compared with 30% among the population overall in this income category. Mormons are slightly less likely than the general public to be in the lowest income bracket (26% earn $30,000 or less per year compared with 31% among the general public), but they are about as likely to make $100,000 or more annually as the rest of the population (16% and 18%, respectively). This places Mormons roughly in the middle of other religious traditions on the socioeconomic spectrum. Jews, Hindus and Buddhists tend to have more education and higher incomes than Mormons, while Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of historically black Protestant churches and evangelical Protestant churches fall on the opposite end of the continuum.

Demographic Characteristics of Converts to Mormonism

The 26% of Mormons who are converts to the faith differ markedly from lifelong Mormons in several ways. First, converts tend to be older than lifelong Mormons. Nearly half of converts (48%) are over age 50, compared with about three-in-ten lifelong members (29%). Converts also tend to be less educated than nonconverts (16% did not graduate from high school, compared with just 6% of lifelong members) and they earn decidedly lower incomes (40% make less than $30,000 a year, compared with 21% among nonconverts).

Converts are more likely than lifelong members to come from minority racial and ethnic groups. One-in-ten converts to Mormonism are black, and nearly all black Mormons are converts. An additional one-in-ten Mormon converts are Hispanic, and just 72% are white; by contrast, 91% of lifelong Mormons are white. Converts are also more than three times as likely as lifelong members to be immigrants to the U.S. (14% vs. 4%).
Demographic Portrait of Converts to Mormonism
Nonconverts are concentrated in the West (84%), but converts are more dispersed throughout the U.S. Half of converts live in the West (53%), but nearly a quarter live in the South (22%), 14% live in the Midwest and 11% reside in the Northeast.

Converts also are less likely than lifelong members to be married (64% vs. 74%), and the rates at which they have children living at home are closer to the national average than to the Mormon average; 61% of Mormon converts have no children living at home and 12% have more than three, compared with 47% and 24%, respectively, among lifelong Mormons.
Family Structure of Converts to Mormonism

Photo Credit: Religion News Service

Cite this publication: Joseph Liu. “A Portrait of Mormons in the U.S..” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (July 24, 2009) http://www.pewforum.org/2009/07/24/a-portrait-of-mormons-in-the-us/, accessed on July 22, 2014.