This is one of a series of web pages I created between 2001and 2006. I was angry and frustrated at the LDS Church. Since then I have moved on and calmed down. So please remember, if you read these pages, that they reflect my past and not my present feelings. Thanks for your understanding!      -  Chris Tolworthy

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Divorce statistics

Judging by the divorce statistics, atheists have stronger families than Mormons. Catholics also have stronger families than Mormons. But Mormons have stronger families than Born Again Christians or members of tiny denominations. Draw your own conclusions.

Belief: % who have been divorced
Non-denominational Christians (small groups; independents) 34%
Jews 30%
Born Again Christians 27%
Mormons 24%
Other Christians (average) 24%
Catholics 21%
Atheists and agnostics 21%

(Source: religioustolerance.org, based on research in the USA by Barna and Gallup)

"Lies, damned lies and statistics"?

After posting this page, a church member told me that you can make statistics appear to say anything you like. If that were true, where is the other side of the story? Where are the statistics that say Mormon marriages are good? The only pro-Mormon statistics I have seen come from completely unreliable sources and are easy to disprove. In contract, the other statistics come from Barna, Gallop, and other reputable studies.

Temple marriages are a statistical trick

The Mormon divorce rate in America is the same as the average for all Americans. However, the Mormon church makes it look much better by focusing on the ones that last, and ignoring the rest. In any church or group, some people will have more in common and so have a stronger marriage, and others will have less in common and a weaker marriage. The church is unusual because it takes the "lots in common" group and gives them a special marriage, a temple marriage. Then it claims that the temple is the cause of the strong marriage, when there is no evidence for that.

Some Mormons marry in the temple, which means "for time and all eternity." Most do not, often because only one partner is a believer. Obviously, if both partners have a lot in common (i.e. the church) then those marriages will last longer. But if the partners feel differently on fundamental things (i.e. a believer married to a non-believer) then the marriage will not last as long on average.

As a result, the statistics show that temple marriages last longer than non-temple marriages in the church. It has nothing to do with the temple - the same effect could be seen within any other church that used a similar filter.

According to http://www.adherents.com/largecom/lds_dem.html, mixed Mormon marriages (where one partner believes and the other does not) have a huge 40% divorce rate. Meanwhile the ones who believe the same have a divorce rate that is correspondingly lower than 24% (see below). Some marriages pull together and last longer, some pull apart and don't last quite as long. But the average across both groups is 24%, just like the average across all of America.

If the church is responsible for making temple marriages longer than they would be normally, then it follows that the church is also responsible for making the non-temple marriages shorter. If the church made temple marriages better and did not change non-temple marriages, then the average for all marriages would be better. But the average is not better, it is just 24%. So if the church makes temple marriages better, it must be making non-temple marriages worse to compensate. And since there are more non-temple than temple marriages among Mormons, then the church hurts more people than it helps.

The myth of 6%

Newspaper articles about temple marriages often quote a figure of 6% as the temple marriage divorce rate. (See for example, "In Era of Divorce, Mormon Temple Weddings Are Built to Last" by William Lobdell, L.A. Times, Saturday, April 8, 2000). Note that this is 6% of people who have married. The previous figure of 24% referred to the number of individuals who reported a divorce some time in their life. Some people answered "no" simply because they never married. So 6% of people who married would probably be equivalent to something around 4% of people in general. Down from 24% to 4% ! Astounding! But also very suspicious. There are at least two reasons to doubt it:

First, 4% or so is statistically extremely unlikely. The church does not reveal detailed statistics in anything (I wonder why?), but in the early 1980s, Neal A. Maxwell told a leadership meeting that "temple marriages had fallen off to forty percent" (see Sunstone, January 1985, "The Lee Revolution and the rise of correlation" by Peter Wiley). If 40% of Mormon marriages had a 4% divorce rate, but the average across the board is 24%, then the remaining Mormon non-temple marriages would need to have a sky-high divorce rate to make the numbers add up. There is no evidence for this.

Second, the church will not officially support the 6% (or 4%) claim but does refer to reputable studies that show more realistic figures. The official church web site includes press release about a study in the journal Demography. The press release is vague, but further searching indicates it was a 1993 study. It showed that when Mormons marry other Mormons, only 13% divorce in the first five years, compared with 20% or more for other religions. This can easily be explained by the fact that the average believing Mormon has a greater commitment to their church than the average Catholic or Protestant has to their church. So two Mormons are likely to have more in common, hence a stronger marriage. When believing Mormons marry believing Mormons it is generally in the temple, so the temple marriage figure must be fairly similar. The number 13% refers only to the first five years. If we add in divorces from the next fifty years (i.e. before death) obviously that figure will rise considerably. So we have a figure in the high teens or 20s. This looks reasonable - a lot better than the average (which includes marriages between people with different beliefs), but several times worse than the mythical 6% (4%) figure. So where did that come from?

Whenever I found the 6% figure it could be traced to BYU professor Daniel K. Judd. But look a bit closer. Judd is not an expert on demographics or relationships. He is an emeritus professor of ancient scripture, not family matters. His "expertise" comes from editing the book "Religion, Mental Health and the Latter-day Saints" for FARMS (the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies), the apologetics arm of BYU (Brigham Young University, wholly owned by the church and dedicated to supporting the church). His book was designed to answer the criticism that Mormon women get depressed more often than others. But judging by a Web search, only BYU and apologetics sites thought it was worth reading. Other universities did not even mention it. I went to the Amazon site in 2003, several years after the bok was published,, and the only "customer review" was by someone called... Daniel K. Judd (surprise!), who gave it five stars (even bigger surprise!). I am sure that Judd would not deliberately lie about the 6% figure, so where did he hear it?

It is possible that the 6% figure refers to a small study in some area of Utah where divorces happen to be very rare. But if it refers to the whole church, then the simplest explanation is that the 6% figure refers to official temple divorces. Not every divorce is accepted by the church as official. A temple marriage is recorded both in their country's civil records (for time) and also in the temple (as a "sealing" for eternity, according to the church). When a temple-married person gets divorced, this is automatically recorded in the civil records. But it does not automatically lead to a temple divorce. The church lets people stay sealed to their old partner as well as any new partners "just in case." Partly this is a relic of the old belief in polygamy. And partly it is the theory that God will sort out the "best" partner after death. Thus, many people are still classed as temple married even when they are really divorced. As a friend of mine commented, "Many divorced people are still temple-married on the Church's database. My own mother and father are still temple-married, even though he has been married to another woman (and in the temple, no less) for 15 years."

In conclusion, when two people are committed to the same beliefs, they have a stronger marriage. This is true in any church or set of beliefs. It is just more obvious in the Mormon church because the church has a special kind of marriage for this sub-group. And the church exaggerates the effect by allowing temple married people to stay married on paper even when they divorce. But the fact remains that the overall beneficial effect of Mormonism on marriage is zero.

Mormonism harms marriage?

On average, American Mormons have the same divorce rate as Americans in general. Does this mean that Mormonism is neutral? Probably not. It may have a a small negative effect. Mormons are urged to endure to the end and see their marriages in an eternal perspective. So we would expect Mormons to put up with more difficulty before contemplating divorce. Also, Mormons tend to have more children, which makes divorce that much harder. So if Mormon marriages are just as happy as other marriages we would expect them to last longer. Yet they last just the same, suggesting that Mormon marriages are less happy than other marriages.

Other groups have better divorce rates

If you really want to trust your marriage to a church or a culture, instead of your own efforts, you can still do much better than the Mormon church. Every few years, the Unification Church (UC) marries thousands of people all at the same time. Naturally, the people who choose this kind of marriage share the same beliefs. Eighteen years later, thousands of the American couples were tracked down. The divorce rate was only 17%. In comparison, after just 5 years, 13% of Mormon-Mormon marriages have ended, so after 18 years the figure was probably much higher than 17%. The UC success is all the more remarkable because many of the couples did not even know each other before being married. (Source: "Survey of the Unification Church 1982 Marriages" at http://www.unification.net/news/news20000328.html for details.)

Finally, here are ten countries that have genuinely low divorce rates. And within these countries there are no doubt areas and sub-cultures with even better figures. Clearly there are ways to achieve a much longer marriage than anything the Mormon church can offer.

Country

Divorces per 100 marriages

Japan 1.9 %
Bosnia and Herzegovina 5 %
Macedonia 5 %
Armenia 6 %
Turkey 6 %
Georgia 6.6 %
Italy 10 %
Azerbaijan 10.3 %
Albania 10.9 %
Yugoslavia 12 %

(Source: www.divorcereform.org, using the most recent years available when the table was compiled in 2002. Many countries were not listed, probably because of the usual difficulties in gathering data, but there were enough to gain a reasonable picture. This is based on married couples, whereas the figures at the top of the page were based on all people who completed surveys. For comparison, 24% of Americans (and 24% of American Mormons) report that they have been divorced at one time. But the 24% includes people who have had several marriages, and the remaining 76% includes many people who never married. The following table is based on actual marriages. For comparison, the USA figure is 54.8, so just over half of individual marriages end in divorce. So if these figures were of "what percentage of individuals have experienced a divorce" then the numbers would be much lower. )

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