Dateonomics

Note from the blog owner: AmasaMason is a new contributor to the blog.  This is his first post.  

 

The growing dating/marriage crisis within the LDS church is no secret; church leaders have been trying to figure out what to do about it, the single women and men in the church are suffering because of it, and even secular sociologists have taken notice (for example see time.com/dateonomics ). No longer are LDS women being deprived of marriage solely because LDS men are “slacking” in their duty to find a wife and have a family; the solution is no longer as simple as exhorting more LDS men to marry. It is much more insidious yet mundane – it is a simple math problem.

Currently within the LDS church, there are more than 3 single women for every 2 single men. This means that if every single LDS man married a single LDS woman, there would be 1/3rd of the single LDS women left over. One third. Let that sink in for a moment.

This is actually a very predictable consequence within any conservative institutionalized group which encourages members to marry within the group and have large families. When there’s a positive birth rate there will be slightly more 20 yr olds than 19 yr olds, slightly more 25 yr olds than 24 yrs olds, etc. Historically (perhaps even biologically), women on average tend to marry older men and men on average tend to marry younger women; the gap is usually about 4 years. Therefore a 24 yr old man will statistically be more likely to marry a 20 yr old woman compared with a woman his own age, and a 23 yr old woman is statistically more likely to marry a 27 yr old man than a man her own age. The result? If a woman hasn’t married by the age of approximately 25-30, her prospects of finding a husband are disproportionately lower compared with the odds that a man the same age will be able to find a wife. 

Bottom line: for a moment, let’s ignore the trend that more LDS men leave the church in adulthood than women; let’s ignore that more LDS men marry outside the church than women, that on average more LDS men delay marriage than women, the possibility that LDS men on average are “less valiant” as a group than LDS women, or any other potential contributing factors – even if we set aside all of that, we can STILL expect to see this disparity between single men and women due to simple math and economics.

This dating/marriage crisis within the LDS church has reached the point of being essentially irreversible. This is why more and more leaders are promising faithful women that even if they don’t have an opportunity to be a wife/mother in this life, they can still lead a happy and productive life and look forward to having those opportunities in the next. While somewhat true, this is a very inadequate “solution” to the people affected so deeply.

Interestingly, another conservative group that noticed a similar trend (Hasidic Judaism) handled it with arranged marriages, and having men and women marry peers of their same age (20 yr old men marry 20 yr old women, 24 yr old men marry 24 yr old women, etc.). This could be a viable solution moving forward if it were institutionally enforced – for future marriage/family relationships; however, in the meantime, there is a huge group of single women that would still not have their needs taken care of. If only there was another option….

The elephant in the room is that there is a solution that doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination considering the historical precedents and doctrinal foundations of Mormonism/LDS theology. What if all single women in the church were to have their marriage prospects immediately expanded to include not just the single LDS men, but also the faithful, married LDS men? Voluntary associations between consenting adults such as this could certainly provide the opportunities for marriage and child bearing that are desired by so many LDS women, who will statistically never have such opportunities otherwise.

I would not encourage the LDS leadership to get involved in arranging marriages etc. as sometimes happened in the early days – too easy to exercise unrighteous dominion and violate agency. However, to remove the severe penalties currently enforced (note: LDS people choose to practice polygyny today are immediately excommunicated as a rule according to the policy in Handbook 1) and allow the biblical principles (ironically, those restored and practiced by Joseph Smith himself) including polygyny to again be accepted by the church, this would result in a grand reunion between the mainstream LDS church and so many fundamentalist break off groups. It would provide the opportunity for people to live according to God’s inspiration and revelation in their marital relationships, a climate which has been absent since 1890. Removing the stigma against polygyny – by removing the extreme penalties enforced by LDS policy currently in place – would be a huge step in the right direction for all of Mormonism/Restorationism.

My religious background and childhood experiences with polygamy

My parents raised my siblings and me to be faithful, active members of the LDS Church. We were all born in Utah, we attended Church as a family every Sunday, and we accepted every assignment our Church leaders were in the mood to give us.  We had Family Home Evening on Monday nights and every morning we read the scriptures as a family.  As children we all got baptized at age 8, and as youth we attended all the requisite youth classes and activities. When I was 15 years old my dad became the bishop of our ward (local congregation). All of us married in the temple, and all the brothers and brothers-in-law served missions.  Etc.  We were “good Mormons.”

I was taught to receive personal revelation, but only in the context of 1. Gaining a testimony, and 2. Making big life decisions such as whom to marry and what career path to follow.  Besides those 2 categories of revelation, knowing what to do was a matter of following the commandments and instructions as laid out by the Church leaders, both the local leadership and the General Authorities.  It wasn’t until I was married with kids that I finally figured out I had been missing personal revelation category # 3. God’s guidance in the life of the individual, if she’ll only let him lead her down the path he has for her and her alone.  (This fact was right in front of me the whole time, since General Conference and General Authorities give general guidelines, not specific directions.  Duh.  Man, am I slow sometimes.)

I remember when I was a young adult and I started to have questions about the Church and the gospel, my father would answer me by saying things such as, “Well, I’ve never heard that topic talked about in General Conference, so I don’t worry about it.”  He genuinely believed (believes) that obeying and following Church leaders defines righteousness.  This was what I was taught to believe as well, and that’s how I felt for my entire life up to my mid-20s.

My very limited experience with polygamy and polygamists

When I was a young child, my LDS aunt (my dad’s sister) became convinced that polygamy was required for exaltation (the Mormon name for the highest level of heaven), and when she couldn’t convince her LDS husband to take another wife, she left her marriage, deserted her 4 tiny children (the youngest was 6 months old), and became a plural wife. I would never recommend anyone do this. (Fortunately, my aunt’s amazing ex-husband ended up getting remarried to a wonderful woman who raised the abandoned children with love, and who has earned enough loyalty and respect from them to be called “Mom.”)  I believe watching his sister make such a life-wrecking decision was traumatic for my father.  I think it’s one of the reasons he rejected my polygamy so vehemently (I’ll share more details about his reaction in the future). He has had a difficult time seeing that in the case of his sister’s polygamy, her children lost their mother, but in the case of my polygamy, my children have essentially gained a mother.

I remember as a child seeing fundies in a grocery store and my mom hissing, “Don’t look at them — they’re polygamists!”

These few memories are all the experiences with polygamy I remember having in my childhood, aside from the confusing stories of polygamy I heard in Church itself, which I never understood but which I knew were controversial.  Even in my gospel studies as an adult, I procrastinated looking into “the whole polygamy thing” because I had a vague idea that it was troubling, and I suspected I wasn’t scholarly enough to understand it or even retain my faith if I looked too deeply into it.  As you’ll see later in my story, I never did get around to studying the issue, even though in 2013 I had clear enough personal revelation (category 3) to know God wanted me to live it and I plunged right in.