OREM — While some Latter-day Saints believe their faith and lifestyle put them a cut above the general population in many areas, such a notion is only true in part, according to a Brigham Young University researcher.
Sociologist Tim Heaton told several dozen participants at an LDS apologists' conference on Saturday that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rank right on par with the U.S. population in general in several statistical measures of lifestyle. And in a few selected categories, their numbers appear more disturbing than those of their fellow citizens.
Using a compilation of numbers from several national surveys completed in the past 30 years — most of them from the 1990s — Heaton said American Latter-day Saint women are overall happier about their pregnancies, have roughly one more child per family, and breast-feed more often than their peers. Among LDS members, women are better educated, marriages are slightly less likely to end in divorce, and members are less likely to die from heart disease or cancer than their peers overall.
The divorce rate, which was once believed to be much lower among Latter-day Saints than the general population, is only from 5 percent to 10 percent lower than the national average of 50 percent, he said. While the national surveys did not measure LDS temple marriages as opposed to civil unions, he said for couples who "both attend church regularly, the lifetime divorce rate is about 25 to 30 percent."
While he affirmed the belief that those who are of the same faith and attend church together are less likely to divorce while those who are not churchgoers and don't attend have a higher divorce rate, he said those most likely to end their unions are mixed-faith marriages.
When it comes to relationships between parents and children, church attendance factored into the happiness of such relationships, but there was no significant variation by faith group. Generally, Latter-day Saints' happiness rankings related to their spouses and children fit national norms, he said.
On the negative side, Heaton said, he's found that at least half of LDS youth report engaging in premarital sex. "It's the statistic that has gotten me into trouble more often than any," he said. In three different national surveys, 80 percent of the population of unmarried young people report having premarital sexual intercourse, while the percentage for LDS youth ranges from 50 to 60 percent. The numbers are "well below the national rate but much higher than many people would like them to be."
The good news for Latter-day Saints is that weekly church attendance by youths is a major predictor of sexual abstinence, he said. Surprisingly for some, LDS females were more likely to have premarital sex than males.
Heaton also said the suicide rate among Utahns is higher than the national average, though it is lower among active Latter-day Saints, he said. Use of the prescription anti-depressant Prozac is also higher in Utah than the national average. "I don't know whether that means Utahns are more likely to get medical advice rather than self-medicate with alcohol and drugs."
Not surprising to most, he said, are consumer surveys that show Utahns consume more Jell-O, ice cream and cookie baking ingredients — marshmallows and chocolate chips — than the average American.
Heaton's presentation was one of several given during a two-day annual conference at Utah Valley State College sponsored by the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research. The group is dedicated to challenging critics of the LDS Church in scholarly discussions about doctrine and practice.