Mormons are average

By Razib Khan | September 30, 2010 11:07 am

Clark of Mormon Metaphysics says below:

My impression is that atheists, Mormons and Jews did best simply because all three groups tend to be well educated. (Someone mentioned stats adjusted for education but I couldn’t see where that was noted although maybe I just missed the obvious)

This is not an unfounded assertion, as it is “common knowledge” in the Zeitgeist that Mormons are high achievers. Ergo, posts such as The Latter Day Ruling Class. There’s one problem here: it’s not really true in a full-throated sense. The sample size for Mormons in the GSS is very small, so that’s not what we need to look at. First, American Religious Identification Survey 2008:


As you can see Mormons have about the average proportion of college graduates for an American ethno-religious group. We can drill-down further with the Religious Landscape Survey. First, comparisons of various religious groups by educational attainment class as proportions:


OK, now let’s look at income:

As you can see Mormons rank below Mainline Protestants, and well below Jews. A notable trend though is that Mormons seem to have lower variance than the national sample. There are fewer Mormons at the extremes.

Finally, here’s how Mormons stack up on IQ using a NLSY sample:


These data data seem to imply that Mormons are average white folk. So why the perception that they’re more educated? Part of it probably has to do with the reality that the “floor” of Mormon achievement is above the national norm. Fewer high school dropouts, fewer poor people. But I think another issue is what I’ll call “The Mitt Romney Effect.” Romney is conventional Mormon genealogically. His roots are in the Mountain West. But he was raised in Michigan, and spent much of his adult life in Massachusetts. I suspect with Mormons there is a much milder version of what has gone on with the Indian American community: strong selection biasing on migrants toward achievers. This gives Americans a skewed view of what Indians are like. While half of Indian Americans have graduate degrees, 1/3 of Indians are illiterate! How’s that for a difference? Similarly,bi-coastal Americans don’t meet many Mormons, and the ones they do are more likely to be achievers, not those of more downscale or modest means who never left St. George, Utah.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Data Analysis, Religion

Comments (37)

  1. Glenn

    “…..and all the children are above average.” (100)

  2. Jack Sevarg

    Interesting analysis. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Christopher Burd

    When I think of Mormons, I think “clean living”, not “high achievement”. It makes sense to me that lower alcohol and drug use, and maybe stronger norms supporting marriage would lead to fewer people falling the dysfunctional lifestyles we associate with low income and low educational attainment. (If Mormons are actually like that, of course.)

  4. Ian

    What I find interesting is the fact that Anglicans/Episcopalians have the highest average IQs among whites, beating Jews and atheists. Given my preconceived ideas about IQ tests (that they are biased by cultural context), I suppose this would fit my preconceptions – that Episcopalians represent a WASP norm, as do IQ tests.

    Living, as I do, in the ‘interior’, I was quite surprised by the idea that Mormons are above average in education. Most Mormons I know are teachers assistants at my wife’s high school. They seem below average in education to me, although “average” for me is people with a graduate degree.

  5. that Episcopalians represent a WASP norm, as do IQ tests.

    sure, explains why jews and east asians do so well on those tests, while scotch-irish not as hot 🙂

  6. Thanks Razib. I appreciate that. It’d be interesting to distinguish first generation Mormons (i.e. converts) from 2cd or 3rd generation Mormons. I don’t recall the exact statistic but I believe nearly 1/3 of all self-identified Mormons are converts. (Don’t quote me on that – I need to look it up) I wonder if there is a difference. (If there is then this might reflect a Mormon cultural value or else just be bias due to Utah/California)


    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).

  8. Interesting. So my intuitions were correct. (I suspect part of this is also the LDS missionary experience where often the well educated middle class won’t give you the time of day)

  9. It occurs to me that the income comparison could be thrown off by the cost of living being lower in the Rockies than on the coasts. Maybe not a huge effect, though.

  10. yeah, i think there’s something to that. though perhaps most with jews and mormons, because of their concentrations.

  11. I suspect some of the incorrect self-perception by Mormons of their education comes from the less educated Mormons being less devout. The opposite of most religions. (You can see this in the Pew data where they break out subgroups) This may mean the Mormons other Mormons notice (i.e. those tending to be in leadership positions or teachers) tend to be well educated. Or maybe it’s just confirmation bias. Educated Mormons notice other educated Mormons more than less educated Mormons.

  12. clark, that is my exp. with mormons (i grew up in a heavily mormon area).

    there’s data from jews that those jews who are christian (of jewish background, christian religion) are dumber than jews of no religion or jews of jewish religion. in fact, they’re dumber, and they’re politically not very different from other whites. the politics could be conformity, but the lack of educational attainment of jews who are christian shows possible avenues of selection bias in who leaves jewish identity.

  13. Regarding Anglican/Episcopalian I suspect that is because back east that’s a big place to meet and make deals. At least it was where I grew up. So you tended to get a lot of bias due to social interests of businessmen and politicians whereas those without those interests might not choose to belong to that faith.

    Anglicans make up a similar figure to Mormons (1.5% to 1.7%) if you include all varieties (or 1% if you just include the main Episcopal body). The main Anglican body has a huge disproportionate number of well off. (39% make over $100,000 versus just 17% making less than $30,000 whereas only 15% of total Protestants make over $100,000 and 32% make under $30,000)

  14. Thad

    Razib, interesting story, thanks for sharing your conclusions. A few things I’d clarify (as one of the highly educated lifelong Mormons). First, even in the US, the demographics for Mormons are changing with the growth of the church. To call a Mormon, even a US mormon one of the “average white folk” is a generalization that doesn’t really fit. I recognize that our non-white demographic is significant mostly outside the US (especially in South America and Africa), but even in the US there is a robust Polynesian, Asian, Black, Native American and Hispanic representation in the church.

    If I might offer a sociologic explanation for the perception (that isn’t supported by the statistics) that Mormons are smarter, I would say it is because there is an emphasis within church doctrine on being an overachiever. Mormons are taught from their youth to find opportunities to learn and grow in every way (“The Glory of God is Intelligence”), whether it be a 4 year old who is encouraged to give religious “talks” in front of an entire congregation, or learn to read the Bible in the “Old English” of the King James; the additional focus on family encourages parents to be more involved in their kids’ education, reading to them, spending time with them, all of which have been shown in multiple studies to improve intelligence.

    So while they might not go to college, my anecdotal observation is that they are highly functioning “overachievers” (this of course being a significant overgeneralization that won’t apply to every Mormon and every situation).

  15. Peter

    I am a Mormon convert with 11 children (11 is allot, even for a Mormon family). I joined the church at age 24 and am now 60. I have about 2 years of college (no degree) and have a good job at Hewlett Packard that I grew into.

    It is expected that my kids will all have college degree’s (and so far, the adults all do). Among the younger generation in the Mormon culture it is normal to obtain at least a Bachelors degree. A person (especially a male) who does not go to college is not normal in the Mormon culture. It shows a lack of initiative and the more desirable, faithful Mormon girls may not consider this person as a desirable mate. The same is true for boys who do not go on missions. It shows a lack of initiative and faithfulness. In a Mormon lifestyle of high achievement and active church and community service, women do not want to be married to a sluggard for the rest of their lives.

    Mormon youth grow up in an environment where most would not even consider skipping college.

  16. women do not want to be married to a sluggard for the rest of their lives.

    believe it or not peter, this is relatively common among females who aren’t mormon either 🙂

  17. Rimon

    razib, do you have a link for this, I’d like to read the data. “there’s data from jews that those jews who are christian (of jewish background, christian religion) are dumber than jews of no religion or jews of jewish religion.”

    this is true in my own family. I have three first cousins on one side. The two who were less intelligent and less academically and career motivated didn’t marry Jews or raise their kids Jewish, while the smartest and most successful sibling married a Jew and raised the kids in the faith. Maybe it’s just because the dumber ones don’t fit well into a community of overachievers, and are less attractive to ambitious Jewish potential mates.


    please note that there’s a difference between jews of other religious and those with no religion

    jews who are religiously jewish – well off, educated
    jews who are not religiously jewish – not as well off, educated
    jews who are of other religions – not as well off, not as educated

  19. Pippa

    What is even more interesting is that all the ‘average’ IQs are ALL listed as above 100, which is supposed to be the mean. What does this tell us about the statistics – – –

  20. Brad

    I think this is a very interesting and correct analysis. However, there have been studies showing the more educated a Mormon is, the more likely he or she will be an “active” member. It showed a positive correlation between educational attainment and religiosity for only Mormons and Jews. Thus, if you study Mormons in general, they are quite average. However, I would be interested to see a similar analysis done on “active” Mormons.

  21. GLENN

    I was raised in a small community that was dominately Mormon. I am not a Mormon, in fact I belong to those non-believers, which I was impressed that we are in the top three. However, Mormons have a high ambition to succeed in education, business and in the work force. Most of our teachers were Mormon. However, I believe this was due to the communities boards that were mostly Mormon. But I believe your analysis sounds good and it follows my observations of the Mormons that I was educated and raised with.

    However, if you interested, I am a graduate with a Bachelor degree in Civil Engineering.

  22. Pippa, I suspect IQ stats are biased as people with very low IQs tend not to take these surveys.

  23. the IQ data are from the NLSY

    also, if you take a total population the white IQ is going to be a little above 100, as other groups will be well below the median 100 in the sample.

  24. john

    being an active, california-reared returned LDS missionary, BYU graduate ucla finished guy, i always thought Mormons WERE average. like i.

    i’m sure that as time passes and as the Church grows even more rapidly it will become even “more average”. we will continue to see more problems typical of average society creep in. e.g., the grid layout of city streets are now becoming like the “outside”; street names instead of numbers; intersections that are not 90degrees. jeees, even is becoming more like with its pink houses. eeeech.

  25. nebbish

    “The two who were less intelligent and less academically and career motivated didn’t marry Jews or raise their kids Jewish”

    There’s a difference between identifying as a Christian oneself and marrying a Christian or even raising children as one.

  26. Paget

    Disclaimer: I am Mormon.

    Having said that, I believe that part of the reason that incomes and education levels are lower is the admonishment for Men to lead their families. Many couples meet in college and the decision is made to forgo the Wife’s education and focus on the Husband’s instead.

    This continues – the same is true with working. More often you will find a single income family in the Mormon church than you will generally. Of my immediate family (including in-laws) all eight are single income with only men working outside the home. We have no women working outside the home. It isn’t that they aren’t capable; it’s that they choose to focus on families – which is a major teaching of Mormonism.

  27. benj


    Very interesting and it answers one of my old questions – when we speak of Jews in the US – according to what definition ? I see here that in 2001 only 3.6 millions adults have a Jewish mother meaning a total Jewish population of 4.5 millions only according to the Israeli/traditional non-US definition of Judaism. Which means that when we compare US Jews according to the larger US definition and other Jews, mainly Israelis, we are not comparing the same people.

  28. Peter that is a lot of kids. (And I see you made Razib’s comment of the week) In one of my wards a Dentist had 18 kids, none of them twins and none adopted. I honestly couldn’t fathom how they managed. Three is a struggle for me sometimes. (Although we plan on having four total)

    I think though that along with my comments in (12) there is an other effect in play. Most folks commenting at blogs live in largely middle class neighborhoods. Especially in areas with lots of Mormons this means almost everyone you meet will come from a relatively similar socio-economic class. Thus in Arizona, California, Utah, and even a lot of eastern cities you’ll have solidly middle class neighborhoods. Unless one is in a Stake calling you tend not to encounter a lot of Mormons with non-middle class backgrounds. Now some wards do. So my ward where in grew up in Nova Scotia was primarily lower class although we also had a few millionaires and then a few very well educated. But most weren’t simply because there weren’t a lot of Mormons in the area so the Ward covered a very large geographic and thus social area. But even beyond that you have bias as middle class wards don’t encounter the many, many farming or mining communities in Utah or Idaho.

    It is true that the Church puts enormous pressure on people to go to college. As you said there is a perception that you are somehow not as diligent if you don’t go. (Often unfairly — I’m not at all convinced college is for everyone) What’s most interesting about the statistics Razib brings up is just how unlike our “ideal” we actually are. Although I’d note that we have an enormous number of people who start college but don’t finish. I wonder if the effects are biased by women starting college but then having kids and not finishing college. The Pew statistics didn’t break this out.

    Still it seems undeniable that our self-image and the reality are very much at odds.

  29. Anthony

    Like Clark, I would be interested to see the college statistics broken out by gender, not just for Mormons, but for everyone. It might also be interesting to see then broken out by large age bands – how are the 25-40s compared to 41-55s and 56-70s.

  30. RB Scott

    Paget claims: “We have no women working outside the home. It isn’t that they aren’t capable; it’s that they choose to focus on families – which is a major teaching of Mormonism.”

    Paget lives in some dream world that does not exist anywhere on this planet. Plenty of Mormon women work outside the home. Plenty more resume careers once their children are off to school. Most see “family” as being their most important responsibilty. This is not dissimilar from most professional people I know.

  31. RG

    Maybe I missed it but did anyone mention seminary – the four years of scripture study classes that many Mormon youth attend during their high school years?

  32. killerbug

    Both Peter and Clark miss the boat. I am a lifelong Mormon and I don’t recall any pressure to get a higher education. They also forget folks like myself who have a trade and make a good living without a four year degree. And Paget is loony tunes to make such a claim about LDS women all being stay-at-home moms.

  33. E. Klinche

    I am a second generation active LDS member who has a MA and two Bachelors. I am a male. My two sisters both have Bachelors (one almost a Masters) and they both work professionally. My house-mom wife has a Bachelors. I can think of many female LDS I know without BAs or BSs, but sometimes a college degree does not account for knowledge of religion. Some are very well read without a degree.
    In my home state in the US Midwest, I can think of many LDS less active members that I knew growing up who may not have achieved much education, I don’t know. But certainly due to their less active attendance as lifelong members on the rolls of the LDS Church they may not have too much religious knowledge…
    Interesting data, there are always gaps. Active versus non-active attendance, white versus Hispanic, etc.

    Keep it up. Individual cases sometimes tell more real depictions or accurate situations, but stats are compelling and instructive as far as they are accuate and fair.

  34. Killerbug, it’s pretty common even in conference talks. For instance last year’s LDS General Conference had Elder Uchtdorf state, “For members of the Church, education is not merely a good idea—it’s a commandment. If formal education is not available, do not allow that to prevent you from acquiring all the knowledge you can.”

    I agree though it doesn’t work for everyone and typically it’s not nuanced by considering trades as eduction. I don’t think everyone should go to college and it can be pretty useless for many.

    Clearly Mormon women aren’t all stay at home Moms, but I bet there is a disproportionate number related to our secular friends. And there is more pressure for that as well.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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