National poll: Latter-day Saints maintained social connections better than others during pandemic
Church members feel more attached to each other and their communities than do other religious groups
Latter-day Saints feel more connected to their neighbors and communities than any other religious group in America, according to a new study released by the Survey Center on American Life.
That type of social cohesion likely helped many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints weather the coronavirus pandemic better than they would have without friends and support, said Dan Cox, the study’s co-author.
The pandemic socially isolated many Americans and accelerated an already growing “friendship recession” particularly affecting men, according to a previous study by the center, which is part of the American Enterprise Institute.
“Mormons aren’t experiencing this,” Cox said. “In terms of their social connectedness, they’re doing way better than than your average American. This has a whole host of benefits. We know that loneliness is incredibly damaging to your emotional health, to physical health, so being rooted in these communities, having people they can rely on to weather something like a pandemic, which for many folks was socially isolating, is just an incredibly good position to be in.”
Overall, the study showed that “Americans who report higher levels of religious participation feel more attached to their communities and the people in them,” and none more so than Latter-day Saints.
“The folks who have those close connections tended to fare a lot better during the pandemic than people with fewer close connections,” Cox said. “Mormons have many more close friends than other Americans. More than a third of Mormons reported they had eight or more close friends.”
Here is the percentage of people in several groups who felt at least somewhat closely connected to people in their communities:
- Latter-day Saints 72%.
- White Catholics 62%.
- White mainline Protestants 61%.
- Jews 58%.
- White evangelical Protestants 57%
- Hispanic Catholics 48 %.
- Black Protestants 48%.
- Religiously unaffiliated 41%.
The study, based on a survey of 5,058 adults in all 50 states conducted in June, showed that people who attend church regularly, volunteer often and have access to community leaders reported higher feelings of connection to their communities and were more optimistic about the future of their neighborhoods.
“These relationships between religious and civic engagement and people’s views of their communities are evidence of the power of regular, meaningful interaction with friends, neighbors and people in groups with whom we feel a kind of kinship,” according to the study.
Latter-day Saints reported high levels of all three factors.
“The amount of social cohesion you see among Mormons may not surprise religious scholars and sociologists, but it strikes you immediately when you see it raw in this data,” Cox said.
Church attendance and community satisfaction, optimism
Americans who reported higher levels of religious participation felt more attached to their communities and neighbors.
- 58% of those who are members of a local congregation felt greater attachment to their communities. Among those who do not belong to a church, synagogue, temple or other place of worship, 46% reported feeling attached to their neighborhoods.
- 62% of those who attend religious services at least once a week expressed greater attachment to their communities, while 40% of those who do not attend services felt that kind of attachment.
Of Latter-day Saints, 79% reported attending religious services at least once a week, compared to 27% of all Americans.
“It’s not terribly surprising given how much of the social life flows from the church,” Cox said, “but I thought this was a pretty incredible statistic: More than half, 52% of Mormons, spend time at least once a week or more often with people from their church outside of formal church services. So they’re spending time socializing, having dinner or what have you, with members of their church. This is way more often than members of other faith traditions. They’re seeing people who belong to their church way more often.”
Cox also was struck by three other pieces of data about Latter-day Saints:
- First, they tend to live closer to their meetinghouse than other Americans who attend church. “So, 68% of Mormons live within a 10-minute drive and a third can walk to their place of worship,” he said. “So again, it’s painting a picture of the amount of community building that is suggested through these numbers.”
- Second, “We also found that an incredible 95% of Mormons report that they are formally members of their church. The next closest religious group, white evangelical Protestants, clock in at only 69%. Everyone else is lower.”
- Third, Mormons are uniquely connected to the people who share their religious identity.
“It is exceedingly difficult to find a Mormon who does not have a close connection to another Mormon,” Cox said, adding that “90% of Mormons have a close friend who’s Mormon, and that’s not even counting family members. We know that friendships are incredibly important in terms of influencing a whole variety of behaviors. In fact, one of the key indicators of whether you will attend church is whether you just simply were asked, were invited.”
A similar question in the survey revealed that 69% of Latter-day Saints felt very close to other members of their church.
“There again, the next closest group is Jews at 50%,” Cox said. “I think partly this could be due to a shared history of persecution, their faith being pilloried in parts of popular culture or having their religious beliefs misunderstood. I think these experiences create stronger bonds among members of their faith tradition.”
Overall, 40% of Americans who report weekly attendance at religious services rated their communities as excellent, compared to 29% who attend less often and 25% who never do.
The same held true for those who believe their communities will improve over the next five years (40% for church attenders, 31% for those who attend less often and 30% for those who never go to church).
Volunteering and a sense of community well-being
More of those who volunteer once a week, 46%, also think their communities are excellent, compared to 24% who do not volunteer.
The same goes for those optimistic their communities will improve in the near future — 38% of those who volunteer weekly feel that way compared to 27% who do not.
Latter-day Saints volunteered weekly at more than three times the rate of all Americans, 23% to 7%. Monthly voluntarism was reported by 39% of Latter-day Saints, up from 15% of all respondents.
Access to community leadership
The survey asked people if they personally knew informal community leaders, someone who coordinated activities and events that connect people in their neighborhoods. The report said 63% of Americans do not know someone like that.
Conversely, the report said Latter-day Saints (58%) and Jews (53%) are unique among religious Americans in their level of connection to someone who organizes social events.
“These people are really important,” Cox said. “We call them community builders or community leaders, these folks who take on a lot of the civic and community building in their neighborhoods. They are organizing events, Halloween parties, after-school activities, fall festivals, whatever. These are the people who are leading that and when you are connected to these types of people, you are much more likely to be involved yourself.
“I thought it was pretty interesting that 58% of Mormons say that they personally know someone that coordinates activities and events,” he added. “That’s way higher than the national average. Mormons just know a lot more of these types of people. That would indicate that there are just more of these types of people in the social circles that Mormons travel.”
Who believes their neighbors would lend a helping hand?
While many Americans feel a lack of connection to their neighbors (48%), most believe their neighbors would be willing to lend a helping hand — 27% thought their neighbors would be very willing and 53% said they thought their neighbors would be fairly willing to help others in their area.
Again, the report said “Mormons are distinct in their belief that neighbors would be willing to help out.”
Here’s how different groups reported believing the people in their area would be “very willing” to help neighbors:
- Latter-day Saints 45%.
- Jews 37%.
- White evangelical Protestants 33%.
- White mainline Protestants 33%.
- White Catholics 32%.
- Hispanic Catholics 27%.
- Black Protestants 25%.
- Religious unaffiliated 20%.