Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Whose Fault Is It When LDS Women Marry Outside the Faith?

Whose Fault Is It When LDS Women Marry Outside the Faith?

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 17, 2009

This discussion might have been part of any young adult fireside in the past few years. It took place, though, all the way back in 1914.

For Time and Eternity

(Young Woman’s Journal, June 1914)

It would be impossible for any people to hold marriage more sacredly than do the Latter-day Saints, for their understanding of the highest marriage ceremony which binds for time and eternity and their perception of the glory of posterity gives to it a sacredness which can not be attached thereto unless people do understand these fundamental things in relation to it. Every member of the Church should bear in mind, however, that with this great light has come great responsibility.

Statistics show that a great many are rejecting the blessing offered by the Father and are being united for this life only.

During the past year there were fifteen marriages to the thousand of church membership; of this number seven had only civil ceremonies while eight were solemnized in temples; 427 married those not in the church, and of this number 398 were women. Such figures are startling. It is deplorable that so many women fail to weigh more carefully the tremendous importance of complying with the command of God given through his prophets.

Based no doubt on the huge proportion of those mixed marriages being formed by Latter-day Saint women with non-member husbands, the editorial lays much of the blame at the feet of the women: Women who marry non-members with the thought that they will convert their husbands are naive; “not one in ten is converted.” Latter-day Saint young people should form intimate alliances only with other members, and “every girl should be taught that ‘false mating is the heaviest curse society brings on human beings.’” Some are not worthy to enter temples, and others assume they can always be sealed at some later, more convenient time.

Can our girls be satisfied with anything less than this holy order of marriage? Can they afford to do without the blessings which the Father promises to those who live according to His precepts? Can they be happy without the divine favor of God?

Not so fast …

All well and good as far as the importance of eternal marriage is concerned, but within a few weeks Feramorz Young Fox (1881-1957), one of the fine intellects of his generation who had just earned a master’s degree in economics from UC-Berkeley and who would later earn a Ph.D. in economic history from Northwestern University, took a more considered look at those marriage statistics and offered an alternate theory … one that we hear again in today’s concerns for the marriage choices of young Latter-day Saints:

Comments on June Editorial

(Young Woman’s Journal, August 1914)

The editorial “For Time and Eternity” in the June issue of the Young Woman’s Journal, compels one to wonder how far the opinion suggested by the figures quoted, that women are more careless than men in making matrimonial alliances, is justified by the facts. How is the disproportionate number of reported outside marriages entered into by Mormon women – 398 as against 29 by Mormon men –  to be accounted for?

Of course the statistics are not absolutely reliable: they are compiled from reports gathered from the various wards and branches of the Church, and their correctness depends upon the care with which bishops, mission presidents, and clerks have kept their records. Allowing very generously for errors, the figures would still indicate that many more women than men married non-members in 1913.

Unfortunately, there are no comparable statistics for preceding years, but if there were and if they pointed in the same direction, the whole responsibility could hardly be laid upon the young women.

Supposing it to be true that many more women than men marry outside of the Church, the explanation must be sought in one or more of the following conditions:

First, there may be fewer single men than single women in the Church, thus necessitating that some of the women choose between marrying non-Mormons and remaining single.

Second, the supply of male members may be adequate, but the women deliberately ignore principle, and marry without regard to religious affiliations.

Third, the supply of Mormon men may be adequate, but may contain a great many who are deficient in attractive qualities, and who “lose out” in competition with non-Mormon suitors, the women really preferring Church members, other things being equal.

Fourth, a large number of Mormon men may deliberately remain single, compelling the women to do likewise, or accept husbands from among non-members.

Investigation seems entirely to eliminate the first of these suppositions, that there is a scarcity of single men in the Church. [Follows a long discussion of census figures and Church statistics.] Making the proper computation, we conclude there are from 104 to 115 single males over 21 years of age in the Church to every 100 single females over 21.

The explanation of our problem, then, lies in the second, third and fourth causes. Doubtless each of these causes accounts for some of the marriages with non-Mormons, but to what extent it would be difficult to determine without a very careful investigation among the women who have married outside.

In any event a very considerable degree of responsibility for the marriage of Mormon women outside the Church attaches to the Mormon men, who, without good cause, defer marriage. That Mormon women are generally very desirable wives is well recognized outside, as well as within the Church, and hence they are much sought after by non-Mormon suitors. Since a very unfortunate custom compels women, if they are to marry at all, to select from among the suitors that offer themselves, the chances in any given case, are favorable to a match with an outsider whenever a desirable Mormon fails to present himself, or enters upon courtship in a desultory, half-hearted manner.

It appears, therefore, that if we are to reduce the number of marriages between Mormon women and non-Mormon men, we must attack the problem on both sides, and while counseling the women against marrying outside the Church, we must use every means to overcome the tendency among Mormon men to delay marriage.

How 2009 is that?



  1. One of my friends had several generations of her female ancestors marrying non-members, and they said they did it because the choice was between being a polygamous wife or marrying outside the faith. Presumably, that was before 1914.

    Young’s conclusion is very timely, but I have to doubt that men currently outnumber women in the Church. Of course, I have no data except what I have seen, but it SEEMS that active women of a marriageable age outnumber active men of a marriageable age in every congregation I have seen outside the MTC and in Africa (which is a very different demographic story).

    Is the “unfortunate custom” to which Young refers the custom of the male initiating the proposal?

    Comment by ESO — November 17, 2009 @ 7:38 am

  2. whenever a desirable Mormon fails to present himself

    In addition to teaching the Mormon men not delay marriage proposals, Feramorz Young Fox sounds as if he would endorse some sort of “courting” course.

    What doesn’t make sense to me, though, is that if these Mormon women were desirable to the non-Mormon men, why weren’t they also desirable to the Mormon men? In any case, F. Young Fox properly takes the focus of the “blame” off of the women solely.

    Comment by Hunter — November 17, 2009 @ 9:09 am

  3. ESO, your friend’s family apparently beat the odds. In the 19th century, when a woman married outside the faith she could seldom maintain her ties to the church or raise her children as LDS, meaning that there would have been no second or third generation of LDS women in the family to repeat the pattern.

    I have no modern stats to play with, so am only asking for perception — I agree that it seems like active women outnumber active men in the church by the time we’re in our 30s, but does it seem to you that this is true for the 18-25 group, which is what I think FYF would have been talking chiefly about? Do the young men drop off in great numbers as young as that?

    Hunter, would it make sense if the Mormon women were looking for marriage sooner or younger than the men, while the men were still more interested in, say, seeking their fortune than assuming new obligations? Or if the Gentile men, knowing that they might have a harder time in the local marriage market, put more of an effort into winning brides sooner? I don’t know; am just exploring.

    In any case, I think he pretty much exhausts the possibilities with his list of four reasons for such marriages. I don’t think women outnumbered men statistically (whether or not all the men were visible in church), or that women disregarded principle in such overwhelming numbers more than men, so I’m left wondering whether the available Mormon men were “deficient” or “unwilling.” “Deficient” is so unflattering that I’d *rather* believe it was “unwilling.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 17, 2009 @ 9:30 am

  4. Feramorz Young Fox is a posthumous co-author of Building the City of God (with Leonard Arrington and Dean May…a really amazing book). He would later be President of LDS Business College.

    Comment by Chris H. — November 17, 2009 @ 9:34 am

  5. Yup — a reason for listening to him, I think. (For anyone wondering how he could be a “posthumous” author, it’s because he had gathered so many data, collected so much material, recorded such cogent analysis before the other two ever got launched on their own work, that Arrington and May did not feel it would be honest to list him in any lesser role than co-author.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 17, 2009 @ 9:46 am

  6. “False mating”? Ew. What a horrid phrase. Of course, “deficient” isn’t precisely kind. It’s interesting that we’re looking for someone to blame. Blame the ultimate two-edged principle–free-agency. Men choosing to wait. Women choosing to accept. All that choosing gets messy.

    Comment by Jami — November 17, 2009 @ 9:57 am

  7. I meant “ultimate two-edged principle—–>free-agency,” not principle-free agency.

    Comment by Jami — November 17, 2009 @ 10:00 am

  8. It appears “free agency” is becoming as antiquated as “false mating” The new, preferred phrase (that means exactly the same thing) is “moral agency”…

    Comment by Clark — November 17, 2009 @ 10:09 am

  9. Ardis–indeed, my friend has really beat the odds, and I think her families’ gospel ties are somewhat tenuous. I won’t go into it, but I think the reason that our religion remained in her family is that they continued to live in area with large Mormon populations. But of course, I have seen many examples of family-lines that go out altogether.

    Again, I have no data about numbers of active men and women in the 18-25 range, but in the circle of people I knew and know in that age range, it seemed to be true. Of course, being a woman myself, I perhaps know many more women than men, but I saw many males of that range drift away from the Church as soon as they left home or after they returned from missions.

    Comment by ESO — November 17, 2009 @ 11:24 am

  10. Based on a few visits to the YSA branch and YSA Institute I’d have to agree that the women-to-men ratio appears high even in the 18-25 yr old range. Many men drop off when they turn 18, when they move out from mom-and-dad, when they go to college, a year or so after they get back from their mission, etc. Even in the 22-29 range, after men get back from their mission, the ratio is noticeable.

    Then, add in the unmarried adult converts: at age 18 and up, more women join the church than men.

    So, yes, Ardis, it’s pretty noticeable. At least around here.

    Comment by Bookslinger — November 17, 2009 @ 11:57 am

  11. I guess the manifesto ending polygamy could be considered a cause for women to marry outside of the church in the early 1900s as well. Polygamy probably picked up the slack for all the single mormon men wishing to remain single as well as the undesirables. Once polygamy ended there would have been a population boom for single women wishing to marry.

    Interestingly the FLDS problem is different. They have too many men wanting to get married and not enough brides to go around. From what I’ve read, they kick out their spare young men as quickly as they can on the slightest of pretexts.

    Comment by Steve G. — November 17, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

  12. I just remember the 80s, where it was the young woman’s fault for not marrying in the Church (better single than to marry outside the Church), repeated from the pulpit and in youth meetings.

    And bless his heart, but I remember my father stating that if any of us married outside the temple, he wouldn’t be there.

    I don’t know how it’s presented in 2009.

    Comment by queuno — November 17, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

  13. In the early 90’s while attending a youth conference my Stake President took it a step further and told both the Young Men and Young Women not to marry anybody who wasn’t a Return Missionary. Imagine how few mormon men would find spouses if that “advice” were taken literally.

    Comment by Steve G. — November 17, 2009 @ 1:06 pm

  14. I suspect that part of the problem may be with the statistics used for the Young Women’s Journal editorial. It has always seemed to me that sisters who engage in non-temple sanctioned relations (either outside of marriage or in legal marriages to nonmembers) are far more likely to continue some association with the church than brethern of same age. Marriages of men to nonmember wives are less likely to be noted on church records. They just disappear.

    Comment by Sheldon — November 17, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

  15. I’ve told this story somewhere else, but when I got off my mission, I lived in Heritage Halls at BYU (the on-campus apartments). Almost all of the girls were freshmen or sophs. About 30% of the men were RMs and the rest were freshmen. This was the true meat market.

    I was asked to speak the first Sunday on preparing to go on a mission (from the perspective of one who had just returned).

    Now, a good female friend of mine from a few years back (our freshmen year) had left that week for the MTC. I extolled the greatness of sister missionaries, and I commended the sisters I’d known on my mission and my friend who had just left. And I issued the line about in my opinion, not only should every man go on a mission, but every woman too.

    And then I closed saying that I was going to hold out for a sister missionary to marry (so impressed was I by their service).

    My roommates tell me the faces of half the girls fell when I said that (j/k). But I did marry an RM — my friend who left on her mission the week I started back at BYU.

    Comment by queuno — November 17, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

  16. queuno,

    That is a great story. Thanks for sharing it.

    Comment by Chris H. — November 17, 2009 @ 1:54 pm

  17. To Ardis in #3 Perhaps women didn’t beat the odds and stay in the church because they had less controlling influence over their and their children’s lives a hundred years ago. Today, I know plenty of women who keep themselves and their children firmly rooted in the gospel on their own whether or not they initially married in the church, not that it is easy or ideal but it must be done as best can.

    I am married outside the Mormon faith. I am raising our children as fully as I can in the light of the Gospel, but even my modern don’t boss me self finds occasionally things I can’t boss about in my life. I’m sure women in 1914 had many more of these occasions.

    The first editorial does stick in my craw a bit. I’m glad that there was someone contemporary that could take a wider view and we didn’t need to wait for time to clear it up.

    I remember my first married bishop calling my husband and I both into his office and asking my husband’s permission to extend a rather minor calling to me. My husband got a kick out of that. Most the time he is supportive and if not, at least he doesn’t get in the way of my and our children’s activity in the church.

    Comment by Dovie — November 17, 2009 @ 4:44 pm

  18. “enters upon courtship in a desultory, halfhearted manner.” Hahaha! Sounds like someone has a problem with committment! Would rather “hang out”! Repent, brethren!

    Comment by E — November 17, 2009 @ 6:27 pm

  19. huh?

    Comment by Chris H. — November 18, 2009 @ 10:31 am

  20. Oops, that “huh” is aimed at a now deleted comment. You are quick Ardis.

    Comment by Chris H. — November 18, 2009 @ 10:32 am

  21. Dumped in the nutter file, Chris.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 18, 2009 @ 10:32 am

  22. I get the impression that you have a whole filing cabinet for those.

    Comment by Chris H. — November 18, 2009 @ 10:33 am

  23. Yeah. I’m negotiating with EnergySolutions to store them as toxic waste.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 18, 2009 @ 10:35 am

  24. “Can they be happy without the divine favor of God?” 1914

    This is surprising to me. Does it really imply that God withdraws favor if one marries a non-member? I imagine you could interpret a loss of favor as ‘missed out on blessings of temple marriage’.

    As a 30 yr old active LDS woman about to marry a fantastic non-member…well, I suppose it doesn’t really change much. Except be extra glad it’s 2009.

    Comment by Martine — November 18, 2009 @ 3:59 pm

  25. The way the YW manual addresses this now is interesting. It pushes the “it seems right now, but later something will be missing” button. If I remember right, there’s a story of a YW woman who married outside the faith coming to church with her children on her own. She sees other kids fathers giving them baby blessings, and she feels very alone and grieves for what her kids are missing out on.

    Comment by Martin — November 18, 2009 @ 4:13 pm

  26. Martine,

    Congrats on getting married and I truly wish you a joyful life! Don’t be too rough on your husband as you get used to him… men take a lot of getting used to once you live with us.

    To address your comment, in my opinion, I think you hit the nail on the head with loss of temple blessings. I wouldn’t read anymore into than that. Of course the Lord still loves you… and I hate using the word “still” there because why wouldn’t He.

    But that doesn’t change that the Temple is extremely important and the blessings we receive there bring happiness. (of course, there are no guarantees, and it all requires the 2 of you to become 1)

    Comment by sam — November 20, 2009 @ 11:55 am

  27. Why is it that men are always to blame? I’ve been doing my best to put myself out there, in spite of a large ammount of social anxieties, and I’ve done all I can think of to keep my life in a marriage-worthy condition. I even lost 72 pounds. And yet I, with rare exception, am never taken seriously. Seeing as I doubt I am some kind of “special case,” it is only reasonable to believe that it is more balanced than the general perspective of dating talks, which is that men are the lazy, debauched reason that the purely innocent women are single. Sure, men aren’t innocent either. I can’t be a respecter of persons and feel like anything more than a liar before God. All I’m saying is that there are men who are doing all that they can, and remain unsuccessful. After all, you can only tell a group of people how terrible they are for so long before they believe it.

    Show some balance, please.

    Comment by Tyler Tracy — December 5, 2014 @ 4:04 pm

  28. Tyler, Keepa is a blog of Mormon history. You may have missed the first line, identifying this as an article published in *1914* — a full century ago. One of the things we do here is discuss how much has changed through the years, as well as what echoes of the past survive into today’s culture.

    You rightly identify some of the painful attitudes that do persist, but in calling for more balance here, please recognize that this article is as old as it is. History doesn’t always reflect the present views of me, or this blog or its regular readers.

    Merry Christmas.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 6, 2014 @ 8:59 am

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