Dating and Marriage at the Zoo

The latest BYU Studies, 46/3 (2007), just hit my mailbox, and features an article by a bunch of folks entitled “A Survey of Dating and Marriage at BYU.” I thought I would take a shot at summarizing it for the benefit of our non-subscribers.

The piece begins by describing a 2001 study of 1,000 college women across the U.S., which found that dating has almost disappeared in favor of Elder Oaks’ favorite bogeyman, “hanging out,” which then leads to the non-LDS variant of “hooking up” (isolated sexual experiences without any expectation of anything more) Only half of the women had been on six or more dates over their entire college career, and 1/3 had two or fewer dates over the entire four years.

These results motivated the authors to do a study at BYU to determine to what extent these trends had penetrated BYU culture. A mail survey was done in 2002, and relied on 784 responses from single students at the Y.

One objective of the survey was to determine attitudes towards marriage in students’ life goals. The importance BYU students placed on marrying (88% women, 87% men) was a little bit more but somewhat comparable to high aspirations towards marriage in the national sample (83% women, 73% men). Interestingly, the non-LDS sample felt a little more confident that at the right time the right person would appear for marriage; nearly the entire national sample was confident in being able to find a suitable mate (99%), but this number was 92% for BYU women and 88% for BYU men, which may suggest higher standards for the BYU group.

About 2/3 of national women and BYU men hoped to find a spouse at college, but the authors were surprised that this figure was only 57% for BYU women, many of whom clearly wanted to graduate before marriage.

BYU students are more likely to see marriage as coming in the next five to ten years than the national poll, and they are also more likely to see marriage as a happier state than being single or cohabiting.

Hanging out is popular in a comparable way at BYU as elsewhere. About a quarter of both BYU men and women hang out six or more times per week. Most commonly this involves just sitting around and talking, although watching TV or going out to eat are popular activities, and going to concerts, sporting events or church activities less so. BYU women report that they like hanging out because it gives them a more active role in initiating interaction with men, and the men like it because it spares them having to risk romantic rejection and it lessens their financial burden since everyone pays his own way. Many students actually lament that they don’t hang out more.

Unlike the situation at many college campuses, dating has not been (almost) completely replaced by hanging out. Roughly 20% of both men and women claimed five or more dates per month. Only 7% of the men and 16% of the women reported not having been on a date during the previous month. Many BYU students averaged as many dates in a single month as women at other schools had over their entire four years of college.

Dating practices haven’t changed much. Men still do most of the inviting, and dinner and a movie, play, concert or similar event is the typical date, although less expensive activities like hiking are also common. Typically the man pays. It has become more common in recent years for women to issue date invitations. Just over half of the men and well over half of the women feel that they do not date as much as they would like to.

As for physical intimacy, around 30% think holding hands, hugging and kissing is appropriate in a hanging out relationship, while the percentage is just short of 100 for a dating relationship. A small number, from 1 to 3%, feels making out and intense kissing is appropriate for hanging out, which appears to be the NCMO phenomenon and the BYU equivalent of “hooking up.” Naturally, BYU students are very conservative as regards actual premarital sex. Only 3 to 4% of BYU students have had sex (a figure possibly somewhat underreported due to fear of honor code violations), as compared with 60 to 70% at other universities.

Many students found it challenging to transition from hanging out to dating relationships. The most common strategy for doing so was to spend more one on one time together outside of the group. One young woman said in effect that someone has to actually say the word “date.” For some students, an increase in physical intimacy, such as holding hands, cuddling or kissing defines the switch. Only about 20% defined actual discussion as the demarcation point, which surprised the researchers. Students generally dreaded DTRs–talks defining the relationship.

So while the hanging out culture at BYU is comparable to trends at other universities, there is much more dating and much less hooking up at the Y than elsewhere.

The most important trait Y students look for in a future spouse is spirituality. The table of desired qualities was mostly similar between men and women, but there were some interesting variances: 40% of men and 68% of women wanted someone who was ambitious, a hard worker. 32% of men and 59% of women wanted someone who is educated. 37% of men but only 9% of women admitted to physical attraction as a desired characteristic. 1% of men cared about earning capacity, compared to 12% of women.

There was also a section on “false starts,” meaning unrequited love and breakups. Many cited loss of feelings or not having enough in common in these situations. Some found serious conflicts as they got to know each other better; jealousy, possessiveness, lack of balance, cheating, different values [although this wasn’t quite the issue at the Y as elsewhere] were among the issues cited.

The largest factor in deciding to marry was spiritual confirmation (22% men, 29% women). Just “feeling it’s the right thing to do” was next.

A significant amount of students were delaying marriage for a variety of reasons: fear of making a mistake, needing more emotional maturity, lack of opportunity, a desire to finish school, etc. About 10% reported family pressures not to marry while in school. The authors thought this unfortunate, because opportunities to marry sharply decline once you leave school.


  1. The most interesting numbers to my mind are the following:

    “32% of men an 59% of women wanted someone who is educated.”

    These surveys were done on college campuses right? Are we really to conclude that 68% of men and 41% of women—-in college(!)—don’t want to marry someone who is educated? I’d like to see the way these results were compiled. What were the actual survey questions that led the researchers to this very sad statistic?

    How is “spirituality” defined by the researchers? Church attendance? Missionary service? Crying on cue during sacrament meeting? I worry about “spirituality” being the most important consideration among BYU students for a marriage partner. It seems to me that we already have a lot of sanctimonious 22 year-old RM’s running around Provo. They don’t need any encouragement from the marriage market.

  2. “…but this number was 92% for BYU women and 88% for BYU men, which may suggest higher standards for the BYU group…

    “The largest factor in deciding to marry was spiritual confirmation (22% men, 29% women). Just “feeling it’s the right thing to do” was next.”

    I believe these two sets of numbers are correlated. I think it suggests not only higher standards, but impossible standards. Not only that, but of course they aren’t going to find anyone if they expect angels to come down (of course I am exaggerating here) and tell him or her it is right. IMO, that is one of the biggest myths (the overwhelming spiritual confirmation, also known as the Saturday’s Warrior Experience) in the church. I’ve seen people use it as an excuse to divorce (“We weren’t suppose to get married.”), and a reason to get married after barely knowing each other (“We just knew it was right!”) without thought that maybe they really were just infatuated with each other. Don’t get me wrong, I believe God cares who we marry, but he wants us to decide and use our brains and not just ask for some confirmation. I know people who thought they would somehow receive a kind of spiritual knowledge and know when they met the person without even dating them. Oh the stories I could tell—and it all goes back to this silly notion.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Melissa, the figures you mention reflect traits marked on the survey as “very important.” I’ll try to represent the table here; the first number is the percentage of men who marked the trait as very important, and the second is the percentage of women:

    Spirituality, religious 87 91
    Communicative, open 77 78
    Wants children 69 80
    Kind, considerate, understanding 67 78
    Fun, sense of humor 59 61
    Ambitious, hard worker 40 68
    Educated 32 59
    Intelligence/smart 43 42
    Healthy 35 26
    Social, outgoing 26 28
    Physically attractive 37 9
    From a good family 12 16
    Athletic 10 8
    Earning capacity 1 12

    The lead-in to this question said “How important are the following characteristics in the person you desire to marry? Remember, no one is perfect, so please don’t mark “very important” for every trait.”

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    mmiles, I love the cliche of the sanctimonious RM who receives a “revelation” that the hot girl in his ward is meant to marry him. (Did you see the Mollywood version of Pride and Prejudice? There was a pretty good representation of this kind of thing in that movie.) Obviously, any girl should feel perfectly free to tell such a guy to go to hell.

  5. I loved the “opportunities to marry sharply decline once you leave school”. As a Mormon who went to a school in California, the opportunities to marry were virtually nonexistent in school and outside school it is a sharp decline from there. If you’re not an RM or have a good excuse like you’re a convert, then you can forget about ever getting married to another Mormon. If you’re willing to branch out to non Mormons, just finding someone who doesn’t smoke, drink, or think you belong to a religious cult is like trying to climb Mt. Everest with both hands tied behind your back. Add onto that some physical deformity and you know you’re sunk. The hardest part is being a male. If you’re a female you have a good excuse that noone asked you. As the male, there’s no excuse. After ten years of “romantic rejection” getting kicked out of the Single’s Ward because you’re too old is the final nail in the coffin. P.S. I love all the Ensign articles about single women.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    John, I grew up in Illinois, and my father, who was a professor at NIU, was fond of saying something to the effect of “We have some of the finest universities in the world right here in Illinois, but I’m sending you to BYU to get you married.” It really pissed me off every time he made his little joke, but looking back on it there was something to it. Getting married at BYU is like falling off a log; back here in Illinois, I imagine it would be considerably more difficult.

  7. Kevin,

    Does the article analyze how the percentage of students who are married by the time they graduate from BYU has actually been declining? For instance, only a little more than half of the students who graduated from BYU in April 2007 were married:

    Or did they discuss how the president of BYU has stopped providing marriage statistics in his annual commencement addresses? The last time he made this kind of comment was spring 2005, when he said “our past surveys indicate that 80 percent will be wed within three years.” He may have stopped giving these stats because, as you noted above, BYU students are increasingly more willing to wait five or ten years to get married.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Sterling, it was based on a single survey in 2002, so it didn’t provide data on changes over time. But the article did recite that BYU institutional research suggests that 63% of male students who graduate are married by graduation as are 55% of female students. These numbers are substantially lower than the 80% you recite, so you may be right about growing reticence to mention these statistics.

  9. I was wondering how long it’d take for a ‘nacle blog to have a post about that article. I figured I couldn’t possibly make it first, and I was right. ^_^

    My younger sister (attending Univ. of Utah) is convinced that all I need to do to get married is move to Utah (I live in Ohio now.) It is pretty funny, all these people who live in our ward who brought back spouses from the Mountain time zone (some went to BYU-I, so.) Oddly, even the girls are getting married out west and then coming back here.

    I had no dates with anyone from my college campus (late 1990s,) incidentally, though I had several dates with a guy who was still in high school (we were both 17-turning-18) when I was a sophomore. But I was asocial, and once, when a guy called to ask me out, I was sure it was a prank and hung up on him. So.

    Oh, and I thought the most disturbing part of all those stats was the low numbers looking for ambition and hard work. And I was pleased that drugs, alcohol, and physical abuse weren’t listed in the BYU student breakup question (I assume any such responses went in the “other” category — the mystery category representing responses from something like less than ten percent of the group, IIRC.) They, along with a category of “different values”, were surprisingly popular answers from the general college population.

  10. a random John says:


    I went to college in California and married someone that I met in college. Though I didn’t see as much dating among LDS students as seems to occur at BYU the LDS students did date more than the avergage non-LDS student. Hanging out was also rampant, in part fueled by near ubiquitous poverty and co-ed dorms.

    I should add that there was about a 50-50 mix of people that married their fellow students versus those that married someone they met in another venue.

  11. skeptic gal says:

    I definitely don’t believe the statistics about the physical attractiveness potential spouses desire. To me, this study seems like participants may have said things they expected the authors of the study wished to hear.

    I had a grand total of 2 dates at BYU back in late 80s. My lifelong total of dates is under 10. I feel I have many spiritual qualities. However, to some, I am not a Sister Pretty. I have a feeling if I were, my dating total would be higher. I also think if this stat were true that LDS men would not be so afraid of befriending sisters they don’t wish to date.

    PS: to John: a year or so ago, there was a good article in the Ensign written by a single guy.

  12. As for physical intimacy, around 30% think holding hands, hugging and kissing is appropriate in a hanging out relationship, while the percentage is just short of 100 for a dating relationship. A small number, from 1 to 3%, feels making out and intense kissing is appropriate for hanging out, which appears to be the NCMO phenomenon and the BYU equivalent of “hooking up.

    And the number who thought it was OK but didn’t want to admit it to the person interviewing them was… (I can 100% guarantee more than 3% of BYU students have hooked up for fun)

  13. Kevin, the 80% was an estimate of what proportion of the single people graduating from BYU would be married within three years of leaving the campus. The marriage rate by graduation of 63% male and 55% female, which is cited in the article, has fallen to 59.7% males and 49.0% females in the web page I linked to above. I suspect the marriage rate would be even lower if BYU used a gender-blind admissions process. The evidence I have seen suggests they are engaging in the practice of gender norming.

  14. skeptic gal,

    In my experience (on the Wasatch Front) twenty-thirtyish single LDS women typically actively punish any guy who wants to be friends outside of a dating relationship – to the degree of refusing to speak to them indefinitely no matter the circumstances. The only counterexamples I know of are now safely married.

  15. Mark, I had lots of friends who were women. I don’t think your comments were generally true.

  16. Mark D.

    Happy New Year.

  17. Sam Kitterman says:

    When visiting my old mission field (So. Germany) several years ago, my wife and I visited one of the wards in Munich. While I was in priesthood, my wife spoke with some of the young adults (in their 20’s) who were sitting outside waiting for their meetings to start.
    Those of you who went to schools other than BYU but here in the states may have thought you had it rough regarding the LDS dating and marriage scene. But compared to what was shared with us about the situation in Europe, anyone in the states has it relatively easy. Given the low numbers of LDS in Europe, the ability to date, let alone marry, someone of the same faith is almost non-existant. The few opportunities to gather in a group of more than 10 is the regional young adult conferences where you have attendees from four or more countries….
    Think about it….

    Happy New Year,

    Sam Kitterman

  18. Sarah: There is some truth in what your sister is saying. Check out this news article: “Utah County is the best place to live if you want to get hitched before turning 25, according to 2006 census data.”

  19. Clark,

    I realize my experience is anecdotal. There are a lot of women who I was friends with too, of whom a substantial number developed persona non grata sort of behavior out of the blue years later. I think that is fundamentally dishonest. Any friend that can’t be happy to say hello years later barring some sort of betrayal is a fraud.

    Happy New Year to you to Jami.

  20. Eric Russell says:

    Heh. I filled out this survey with a roommate and though I can’t remember how we responded specifically, I recall we responded with all crazy answers. We thought it was hilarious at the time, but I feel kind of bad now, seeing as how studies are being published on it.

    For the record, it was anonymous and we returned it in an envelope through the mail, so I don’t think anyone was worried about reporting honor code violations.

  21. For instance, only a little more than half of the students who graduated from BYU in April 2007 were married

    And is this a bad thing? The idea that we need to be married by the age 24 needs to die. It’s right for some and not right for others.

    A BYU anecdote: I told my BYU bishop I was not dating to marry, but more just to have fun and meet people. He told me I was unworthy to hold a temple recommend and threatened to pull my ecclesiastical endorsement if I didn’t change my attitude. Instead, I changed my address.

  22. I’ll second Norbert’s anecdote. I was going out with a girl that I didn’t particularly want to get married to, and didn’t (we were friends who hung out more than dated, but it occasionally slipped into dating mode), and I caught hell for my indecisiveness.

    Anyway – Melissa (#1) – surely you haven’t fallen into the trap of thinking that college students — particular *undergrads* are educated or are concerned with becoming educated, even at BYU or anywhere else. I will go out on a limb and say that 40% of bachelor’s degree recipients — including the hallowed Ivies — are not educated. So I believe it is a perfectly legitimate criteria for a single person to choose to accentuate or ignore in his/her dating search. I would also say that then are scores of master’s and doctoral graduates who are not educated.

    (Then again, my question will be “what was the students’ expected definition of ‘educated’?”)

  23. My children wanted to attend the local State U, but they went out to BYU for the spring/summer visiting student program.

    My son was attracted by the opportunity to teach at a summer music camp; he ended up falling in love with another counselor. They got married the following summer when camp ended.

    My daughter lived at one of the language houses in the summer of 2000. She loved doing volunteer work at the MTC, which crystallized her determination to serve a mission.

    I was worried that she was starving to death. She ate one meal with her language cohort, the cost of which was included in her dorm fees. But she had to provide the other meals. I had a conference on the west coast a few weeks into the semester which allowed me to stop by and take her out shopping for some staples, but it wasn’t enough to last the entire summer. As June waned, I asked if she needed more money, but she insisted she was fine.

    A hint came when a neighbor dropped off her son at the MTC, visiting my daughter on the way. My friend said that the apartment was filled with bouquets of flowers, and a roommate explained that they were all from my daughter’s admirers. “How does she do it?” the roommate wondered. She confessed to watching my daughter and trying to figure it out.

    On the way home from the airport, we talked about this, and she admitted that yes, she didn’t need food money because guys were taking her out most days. I used the interviewing techniques from my professional training, and determined that she went on an average of 1.37 dates per day, with no more than 2 dates per man.

    She thought that guys were attracted because she was so different, not being from the intermountain west, and that she could talk about her many interests, and because she was clearly there to enjoy their company and had no concern with marriage at that point in her life, so there was no pressure. She did have some horror stories about RMs who thought she was “the one,” and immature types who decided she was an apostate for participating in role-playing games or reading Lord of the Rings.

    But mostly she blessed the lives of the young men she dated and befriended.

    She married a guy she had met in the student ward back at State U.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    skeptic gal, I too am skeptical of the low percentages in the concern over physical attractiveness statistic, which is why I added the words “admitted to” (they were not in the article itself).

  25. John (5),
    I don’t know where in CA you are, but that’s far from my experience. I met my wife in the singles ward in New York, where I was in grad school and she in her undergrad. (And she had a bunch of undergrad LDS friends who also went to school in New York and also got married here.)

    My sister went to grad school in Palo Alto and married another student there.

    My other sister, after graduating from BYU, went back to San Diego and married a kid she met there.

    So, to my parents’ initial chagrin (since revised), three of us went to BYU, and all three of us were married (to someone who didn’t ever go to BYU) within about a year and a half of graduating and leaving Utah. So it really isn’t hopeless; I found New York a far easier place to get married than Provo (obviously).

  26. Norbert: I pointed out the declining percentage because it is the exact opposite of what the Brethren want for BYU students. In fact, to prop up the marriage rate, it looks to me like BYU has started admitting men whose GPAs and ACT scores are, on average, lower than the women who are admitted. They are doing this, in my estimation, to prevent the campus from becoming female majority and to increase the chance that the students will become married.

  27. This is funny in some ways, because those kind of marriage statistics at an **undergraduate institution** are astronomically high. When I graduated on the East Coast, there were four married students in the entire college (roughly 8,000 students) – myself, two other Mormon students who married each other and one 60-ish-year-old Catholic man who had returned to finish his degree. I was the first married freshman (after my mission) in administrative memory; I was the first (relatively) normal aged undergrad with a child (from a marriage, at least) for at least 20 years – and I had three.

    We can talk about the “declining” marriage numbers at BYU, but when you compare them to elsewhere . . . Statistically, there is no comparison.

    What I would find fascinating is a comparison of the marriage rate for Mormon students at the BYU’s and those at other colleges.

  28. #26 – Sterling, do you have any evidence of that?

  29. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 27 I agree with Ray. As an undergrad in Ann Arbor I never once met a fellow-student who was married. That started to change somewhat by the time I got to grad school, but even there it was overwhelmingly single. Can’t imagine that situation has changed at all in the intervening years.

    Would be more interesting to compare BYU to other conservative Christian schools that basically share the same moral values. Anybody know anything about campus life at Wheaton, Taylor, or even (gag) Bob Jones?

  30. skeptic gal says:

    #14/Mark: that is too bad that some women “punish” men if they aren’t friends. That is sad. In my situation, I have made efforts to be a friend but they don’t seem to want it or ignore or dismiss those efforts. Because of this, at least for me, it makes it hard to trust other guys who are genuinely nice. It does hurt. To me, if we all attend church and are supposedly striving to follow Jesus Christ, I don’t understand why people can’t be a little kinder to each other in this aspect (whether dating, non-dating or just being friends) of life.

  31. Stirling: (#26)

    In fact, to prop up the marriage rate, it looks to me like BYU has started admitting men whose GPAs and ACT scores are, on average, lower than the women who are admitted. They are doing this, in my estimation, to prevent the campus from becoming female majority and to increase the chance that the students will become married.

    I’m not sure it’s just to prop up the marriage rate. I suspect they’d just like more men there as a general principle. If the rate were 60-40 of women given that there is still a view women ideally (if not practically) ought be primarily raising the kids at home then something is wrong. That is college is seen as much as job preparation as anything and thus there’s an incentive to focus on men. (I’m not saying this is right or wrong – but there is a bit of a generation gap at work as well)

    I should add that sometime I believe in the early 90’s the brethren made a conscious decision to stop focusing in on grades and such for admissions. It’s still important of course. But it didn’t become what some feared where you needed an A average to get into BYU. Some was luck (lottery), some depended upon other factors (social work, essays, etc). If marriage concerns were an other factor I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

    I am curious as to your statistics that, on average, men have lower academic qualifications from High School than women. I’d not heard that before and while it seems plausible I’d want to see evidence for it before repeating it to others.

    Kevin: (#24)

    I too am skeptical of the low percentages in the concern over physical attractiveness statistic, which is why I added the words “admitted to” (they were not in the article itself).

    I’m skeptical of surveys like this in general. If there isn’t a lot of care people tell folks what they think they ought say. There’s then the blurry line of what constitutes a date. A lot of people are more casual in how they approach it than others. When is something hanging out versus a group date? As I said the whole NICMO thing is kind of silly as well. I knew way to many people who did that at least a few times to believe that figure. (Heck, I had a roommate who basically hooked up with most of his ward’s Relief Society at one time or an other)

    Naismith: (#23)

    She thought that guys were attracted because she was so different, not being from the intermountain west, and that she could talk about her many interests, and because she was clearly there to enjoy their company and had no concern with marriage at that point in her life, so there was no pressure.

    Personality has a lot to do with dating. More than I think most people want to admit. Some people are charismatic while the rest of us were probably more shy and incompetent than we wished. Those outgoing and charismatic people date a lot. (Whether male or female) And it doesn’t always correlate well with physical attractiveness. (Or rather, contributes a lot to how others find you attractive)

    It’s also sadly the case that way too many women around BYU (at least when I was still dating) had very few real hobbies, interests, or so forth. Dates were seen as the man entertaining them. And of course in that situation how men view dating will be likewise affected. Either a girl nice to look at or a pure focus on just getting married. Given that, it’s not surprising so many prefer to just hang out and get to know people. Dating isn’t necessarily the most efficient way of meeting people you like.

  32. a random John says:


    (I can 100% guarantee more than 3% of BYU students have hooked up for fun)

    Yes, but the question wasn’t about whether you’ve done it. The question was about whether they feel it is appropriate for hanging out. I would guess that students doing it and are conflicted about it.


    You’ve got to field a football team somehow. I’d guess they pull down the GPA and ACT scores pretty significantly on their own.

  33. I read the stats out loud to my wife, who upon hearing the 9% females-seeking-for-attractive-men statistic, replied: “Bull!”

  34. What would be fascinating would be to take a survey of BYU students or graduates who married in the past year, to decide if the same criteria, ages, and experiences applied. Because intention and reality is pretty different.

    Newlywed husband to wife: You mean you didn’t care about attractiveness? What am I? Chopped liver?

    Newlywed wife to husband: No dear, I got a spiritual confirmation that you were ambitious and a hard worker.

  35. I, for one, applaud the undergrads who hesitate on marriage because they need more emotional maturity. I think a lot of young couples are so caught up in the romantic New Era/JackWeyland fairy tale, they ignore warning signs and/or time to really court. In my day they called it “spires in the eyes” and it’s lead to many broken hearts, marriages and families.

  36. A friend of mine observed that there’s just as much sex going on at BYU as at any other university. It’s just that the BYU students get married first.

  37. oops– that’s led to… (#35)

  38. Ray and Clark: Here are some of things I have noticed.

    Between the late 1990s and 2003-04, for the first time ever at BYU, most of the bachelors degree recipients were women (as high as 53% in 1999-2000). However, since April 2005, BYU has been awarding 51 to 52 percent of its undergraduate degrees to men.

    I suspect BYU reversed this pattern by changing its admissions policy. For instance, in the 2002-03 school year, 80% of the men and only 68% of the women who applied as first-time, first-year students (freshman) were admitted. One theory for this disparity appeared recently on “BYU gets more highly qualified female applicants than males, forcing it to accept a slightly lower average GPA/ACT profile for males than females.”

    How do you guys interpret this data?

  39. Sterling, where is the source data?

    The percentages of accepted students doesn’t mean much unless we know how many applicants there were and the average GPA/ACT scores.

    And finally – I’m not sure I’d by much analysis from or CougarNet or the CougarClub, etc. That said, I would not be surprised if BYU tries to ensure a fairly equal mix of men and women. I’d just be leery at using BYU football fan analysis.

  40. Sterling, I can’t. There isn’t nearly enough – and a 5% swing isn’t automatically significant.

    Simply as a generalization, it appears that BYU is trying to maintain as close to a 50/50 split as possible – probably with male athletes skewing overall stats, as they tend to do everywhere else. However, that’s pure speculation without more data.

  41. I agree with whoever said earlier that a lot of people at a university don’t neccesarily value “education”. I just finished nearly 10 years in Provo at BYU (with a few breaks in betweeen for mission & having kids). Between being an undergraduate, graduate, and instructor I’ve spent a lot of time there. And for most students getting a degree is the main reason they are there, not getting “too smart” or “too educated” if that makes sense. I didn’t get asked out on dates while I was in high school and I thought it was because I was a nerd. Alas, my nerdiness and participation in the College Bowl team at BYU didn’t win me any admirers either. No dates for me for three years.

    I would not be surprised if they are doing a little tweaking in admissions to keep their gender ratios equal. In my strictly anecdotal experience, girls outperformed boys both in my high school and in my classes at BYU. I was in the humanities department, which I know is heavily skewed female both in graduate and undergrad programs. I would not be surprised if BYU gets more qualified female applicants than male ones, and if they want to keep ratios equal they will have to turn away more women and/or admit men with lower scores than the average one for women. I think we’ve had a few posts around the blogs lately about education and young Mormon men, haven’t we?

  42. Guys: Here is where you can find the data on applicants:

  43. Ray (#40):

    Simply as a generalization, it appears that BYU is trying to maintain as close to a 50/50 split as possible

    I agree that the split is about 50/50, but how many of the men are single verses the women? At least in my classes, more of the men were married and most of the women were single. I’d be interested in a gender ratio that only took into account single men and women.

    Of course the wards were all single, but they weren’t only BYU students. The ones I was in had a male:female ratio of about 1:2. I know that with my personality, I’d have been much more likely to meet someone I’d want to date in a class than a linger longer.

  44. Thanks for the stats, Sterling. I did a very quick analysis, and I think the highlights are:

    1) Every year from 2002-03 to 2006-07, female applicants outnumbered male applicants significantly.

    2) Each year after 2002-03 (excluding only the first year of the stats), the acceptance rate for male and female applicants was extremely close – within 5% max.

    3) Each year, female admissions significantly outnumbered male admissions.

    4) Each year except 2003-04, enrollment rates for male and female admitted students was extremely close – within 4% max.

    5) Each year except 2003-04, female enrollees significantly outnumbered male enrollees. In 2003-04, the female enrollment percentage was an abnormally low 54%, while the male enrollment rate was an abnormally high 95%. Those enrollment rates skewed that year’s numbers significantly – to put it very mildly. (That’s the year that was highlighted in your comment. It is an anomaly.)

    Summary: Based on these numbers, it appears that BYU regularly admitted 75-80% of all applicants – of each gender – from 2002-03 to 2005-06. Given the high number of applicants in 2006-07, that range dropped to 68-73%. There appears to be no effort to admit the same number of men and women; rather, it appears that there is an effort to admit roughly the same percent of men and women applicants – even though that means more female students are admitted and enroll than do men.

    There is no way in the data to determine admissions standards by gender.

    Finally, the undergraduate degrees awarded by gender is affected greatly by marriage and dis-enrollment rates among female students – which I am positive is significantly higher than the same rate for male students.

  45. The statistic that most surprises me is that only 12% of women said that earning capacity was important to them. If you switched it to how many men think that THEIR earning capacity is important, that number would be much higher than 12%. I’m curious: what percentage of respondents were freshmen?

  46. I wonder if the fact guys are on a mission for two years whereas most women aren’t affects application rates.

  47. I’m surprised at how artless the survey’s so-called efforts at asking about premarital sex are. Problems of under- and over-reporting are well-known in survey research, and there are techniques that work fairly well. This survey just didn’t try using any of them. A disappointment in an otherwise fascinating study.

  48. I can’t believe BYU does studies on this. What a waste of money. Everyone knows why BYU students get married before anyone else. It’s because they can’t have SEX until they are married! Forget the numbers, forget the statistics you have a town full of 20something virgins that can’t get it on until they say ‘I do’.

  49. Steve Evans says:

    While I’m sure sexual urges play into the equation, salt h2o, I seriously doubt that sex is the sole factor, let alone the primary factor in the younger age of marriage at BYU. Far more likely, in my opinion, is an overall culture that encourages pairing off and marriage at a young age and a religion that reserves its highest blessings and progression for marrieds only.

    This is all speculation, of course, but I think the old chestnut about randy virgins getting married for sex is false.

  50. What’s this about randy virgins???

  51. Steve Evans says:


  52. Sometimes I wonder at how LDS divorce rates don’t outstrip the world’s given the criteria many of us LDS folk use to choose our spouses.

    I think that the attractiveness factor is way under-reported. Simply observing the people who are actually getting those “five or more dates per month” and those who “reported not having been on a date during the previous month” would likely show that attractiveness was a factor that is not being ignored among the dating population.

    At one point, in my single life, I lost those last pesky 10 pounds. The difference in my social life was astounding! I really didn’t think it made that big of a difference to people. Wrong-o. “Life turned in to an endless medley of gee-it-had-to-be-yous”. My clothes didn’t change. My personality didn’t change. My standards didn’t change. My rear changed.

    And now that I’ve had an additional 20 years to watch others go through the dating process I’ve come to the conclusion that my experience is not isolated, that regardless of what people say attractiveness is of prime importance in the “hunt.”

  53. You know, the low numbers for physical attractiveness don’t necessarily mean that a high number of BYU students consider attractiveness unimportant–just that they don’t consider it to be “very” important, in comparison with the other factors listed. Respondents probably thought that attractiveness was important but that some of the other factors on the list were more important. If the survey were run again with only six factors listed, physical attractiveness would probably have scored higher.

  54. They wouldn’t admit to considering physical attractiveness “very” important.

    Did I mis-read? Were the survey participants only allowed to chose one very important quality? I thought you could say “cute” and “rich” were both very important if you wanted to.

  55. It can be self-fulfilling. After checking off seven or eight qualities, it would be easy to say “gosh, I think I’m checking off too many,” and then start taking off ones that you would have marked otherwise. And the first one’s you’d take off of your “very important” list are the qualities that you feel you shouldn’t think are very important.

  56. Steve,

    Mormons love to ignore and downplay sex. If BYU students suddenly were able to have sex outside of marriage the marriage rate in Provo would plumit.

    Put yourself in the mind of a 22 year old boy- you date a lot of girls and get no sex, you marry one girl and get sex. This isn’t rocket science.

    I still can’t believe BYU did a study on this- what a waste of time and money.

  57. Steve Evans says:

    salt h2o, I’ve been a 22-yr old boy, and the equation was dramatically different than the one you portray. I’m sorry, but you’re oversimplifying to the point of dramatic error.

  58. I tend to agree with salth20, that it would be naive to dismiss the sexual component altogether. I think that plays a bigger role in short coursthips/quick marriages than we like to admit. But, it obviously isn’t the only factor in most cases.

  59. nurturenotcontrol says:

    We should all be free to marry (if we want to marry at all) when we are ready and with whom ever we like. Rushing to marry is not a good option and can lead to great unhappiness. In one’s early 20’s one is still exploring life and growing as an adult.

    Why is religion so oppressive? Ah yes, because it is created by men in order to rule and control others.

  60. nurturenotcontrol, thank for for the excellent non sequitur.

  61. #59, 1st paragraph – I’m fascinated when people tell other people that they should do something whenever or however they desire – and then put conditions on it in the next breath, doing exactly what they condemn others for doing.

  62. 60. Nice one, Steve. Way to keep that resolution!

  63. 62 – Jami, that was keeping the resolution. “Nicer” doesn’t mean “nice”.

  64. That was sincerity in comment #62, not sarcasm. Honest! (I guess I’ve gotta work on that “tone” thing.)

  65. Steve Evans says:

    It really was an excellent one though!

  66. SaltH20:

    Is sex a prime motivating factor for BYU guys to get married? Depends what you mean. If you mean that it’s the only reason why BYU students get married, then you’re wrong. There are a few who go out to Las Vegas and get divorced a few weeks later after they’ve had their fun (they mostly live in King Henry), but I’ve never met anyone like that personally. The relationship goes a lot deeper for all of my married friends, and I get the sense that that depth existed before marriage.

    If you mean that sex is the thing keeping guys from being apathetic about girls, then you’re partially correct. I can see how it catches people’s attention. However, I don’t think that it’s the only factor in anyone’s mind–or that it’s even a conscious, person-specific thing for most of us. After all, Jesus said that having inappropriate thoughts is committing adultery with your mind, and speaking as a BYU guy, we work hard to keep from committing that sin. I think that most BYU guys have sex on their minds in general but that they don’t start relationships because they’re horny for any particular person. There are some dirty rotten exceptions, but those are in the minority, IMO.

    And really, for me and my friends, there are a lot of other factors besides sexuality that define attraction. There are a few girls I find really fun to hang out with, and have dated informally, who aren’t the most physically attractive people at BYU. We have similar interests and I really enjoy their positive attitudes and personalities, and honestly I just find that very attractive. And if the most sexually attractive girl at BYU had the intellectual capacity of your average high schooler, I wouldn’t take her out after the first date.

    No offense, but it seems that you’re looking at this issue through some pretty thick glasses. Not that I want you to change your attitude or have you put on a nice, pretty, fake face about your own experiences, because I don’t think any of us want that. There certainly are problems with dating and relationships at BYU, and I’m not trying to minimize your experience. I just think it’s healthy for all of us to recognize that our experiences are not universal, and that the reality is just too complex to be broken down and dismissed with a single answer. For that reason, I applaud these scientific approaches to understanding dating/relationship trends at BYU. Whether or not the survey was perfectly accurate on all points, I can say that I learned something from it–can you?

  67. Thomas Parkin says:

    All this talk has me thinking …

    I’d rather blow my brains out than be 21 and single again.


  68. id’ rather blow my brains out than be 27 and single. oh wait, i am.

    after reading all above comments to catch up:
    1. i don’t think that more attention/pity/sympathy/Ensign articles about being a single man would do much for me. but being a single LDS guy sucks. you’d think you’d have the pick of the litter (and maybe you do, with the right credentials, physique and earning power). . . even then, all women in the ward view you as a target, and get catty and mean if you start dating someone else. it’s a battlefield with ever less room for friendship. (but i don’t really need mid-20s girl_friends).
    2. the survey is laughable. other studies by BYU’s Sociology department show 50-60% of students at BYU have had sex. you don’t need to look far to realize that money and physical attraction drive most of the dating in provo, just like the rest of the world. but the format of the survey accounts for the latter.
    3. dating at non-BYU schools is something like debutante balls: every mom at the club (apologies, Elder Oaks) wants her little girl to have one, but most girls and especially guys think they’re lame. of course, some guys figure out it’s easier to get action at a ball, and then start dating up a storm.

  69. “50-60% of students at BYU have had sex”

    1) undergrads or grad students?

    2) single or married?

    This is why I hate statistics used in a vacuum. (or maybe I just hate vacuums)

  70. matt, can you provide the source for that figure? I’d like to look at it.

  71. I’m reminded of a filmstrip my Teachers’ Quorum watched thirty years ago in which Elder Packer said, very tactfully, that sexual attraction stabilizes men and leads them to marry, and that without it, men would wander the world like sailors looking for adventure. What is a happenning at BYU is pretty normal; that which is happenning at other universities, men and women in their early 20s universally not involving themselves in courting behaviour, is aberrant.

  72. To One Lower Light:

    My point is this:
    Do you really think that if pre-martial sex was acceptable, BYU students would continue to get married at such a young age?

  73. salt h2o, what everyone is trying to tell you is: yes.

  74. Like ray said in 69… a large percentage of BYU students are in fact sexually active since they are married. All three of my brothers were married at BYU for a number of years popping out babies. I would wager that there is as much sex if not more at BYU as opposed to the average college campus. Just most of it at BYU is married sex.

  75. Ray,

    i should have been more specific: premarital.

    52% of women
    Wilford E. Smith, “Mormon Sex Standards on College Campuses: Or Deal us Out of the Sexual Revolution” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 10 (Autumn 1976): 77
    as cited in,
    D. Michael Quinn (uh-oh, here we go), Same Sex Dynamics in the 19th Century, a Mormon Example, p 335.

    “Of LDS Women, 58% Admit Premarital Sex” Salt Lake Tribue, 9 Aug 1991
    also cited by Quinn

    (That’s just what I was able to pull out of in a few minutes. But I’ve seen a Sociology Paper by the same professor, that, if memory serves, put the number of male BYU students and female experiencing premarital sex at around 50% over a 30-year period. I could mis-remember, but the two sources I gave might be good starting points if you want to find more literature.)

    salt h2O–I dunno if they’d continue to marry at a young age. My suspicion is that a few wouldn’t but that most would, since many consider marriage-kids-family as central to the goals/mission in life. the ability to have sex w/o moral opprobrium wouldn’t necessarily stop BYU students from wanting to have families and children.

    but, in my experience, even the moral approbrium doesn’t stop everyone. two separate mission buddies of mine have had roommates get their gfs pregnant this year at BYU. both’s response: “i knew a few people were doing IT, but they were the last couple I’d suspect.”

  76. Kevin Barney says:

    52 percent of single women at BYU have had premarital sex? Wow, I must have hung out with the wrong crowd. I didn’t see that at all. It must have been those California kids in the Riviera apartments that skewed the averages…

  77. of course one key difference is between “have had” and “are having regularly”

    it’s a funny dividing line. there are probably thousands of kids who had sex in junior high or high school, before they converted, or one summer during college, but have never had sex while enrolled at byu.

    but there are also thousands of kids who only spend a semester or two at byu and then leave. when i went to college in california, i bumped into lots of kids who had gone to byu for a while, then transfered, and weren’t active in church. a friend’s sister joined the church, went to byu for a semeseter, got in lots of trouble in provo, left byu and left the church.

    meanwhile, i know a peter priesthood who’s in his 7th year as an undergrad at byu. he is what many of us think of as byu students: the guys that are around campus, attending student wards, and always in provo. i imagine that for every 10 of him, there a certain number that were at byu long enough to show up in a survey, but rapidly move on to sexier pastures?

    if the above survey asked students if they masturbated, you’d probably also get under-reporting–severe under-reporting. a campus bishop might tell a different story.

  78. matt, from the study itself, the 52% is for **inactive** Mormon female students; the same rate for inactive Mormon male students is 63%. Those figures for **active** male and female students are 19% and 1%, respectively. I didn’t make up the last numbers; they came straight from the research.

    The study also asserts that the figures for active members over the course of the study had gone *down* for active members and *up* for inactive members.

  79. matt, it does ask about previous experience with masturbation. The numbers for active members are 78% for men and 27% for women.

  80. I really doubt the numbers in #79 are under-reporting. They are barely lower than the numbers for inactive members.

  81. Ray,
    which study are you talking about. . . the Wilford Smith? or the Sltrib?

    79. If it’s the former, then Quinn may have misrepresented the data in his book (I’d have to look). If it’s the latter, then it’s beside the point.

    80. logical loophole here–unless both are underreported, which appears to be the case. the medical literature i’ve seen put male figures into the 90s for men (i don’t see why inactive LDS would be different than the population as a whole) and women at above 50%. Women tend to underreport more than men in surveys of sexual practices.
    (yes, of course, there’s also the possibility that the medial literature over-estimates. . . but i’ll take it at face value.)

  82. on second glance (the number 52% should have tipped me off), it appears you’re clearly looking at the Wilford Smith’s article. As I said, I only saw it as cited in Quinn. Interesting.

  83. salt h20:

    I agree with Matt: some people would get married later, but marriage for most of us is more about moving on to the next stage in life than it is about experiencing sexual intercourse. I remember that my thinking on marriage started changing when I was a missionary (I served my mission before doing any college), so that I started thinking about what it would be like to experience a spouse-spouse relationship and raise children. It’s not like I stopped thinking about sex altogether, but marriage is more than that for me. From talking with my single friends and classmates, it’s the same with them as well.

    It’s a difficult question, though, because if you change the law of chastity, you change a whole lot more in the LDS paradigm than marriage patterns. You can’t conduct a thought experiment when you control for that factor, because it changes things on such a fundamental level. So I’d have to say that the question is unfair.

  84. I don’t think the question is so terribly unfair as much as blantanly obvious. Those that think the marriage rate would stay the same regardless of sex are dillusional about our youth.

    I’m not looking to question chastity or whether or not getting married at 21 is right- just pointing out this study is fundamentally flawed because it doesn’t take into account one of the basic human instincts that faithful LDS members have to deny until marriage.

  85. salt h2o,
    And everybody’s disagreeing with you because your assertion is clearly, clearly overbroad. Yes, if active LDS youth could have sex before marriage and remain in unimpaired standing, some portion would get married older. But you are totally ignoring the portion of us who didn’t get married at 21, in spite of also not having sex. Sex probably plays a portion in some (maybe most) people’s choices, but so do following normative standards, companionship, desire to start a family, desire to leave the single’s ward/dating scene, etc. While I concede again that some portion of LDS would get married later, I agree with everybody here who has said that it is a small subset.

  86. I think you guys are twisting part of salt h20’s inartful comment. But since I also contributed to it with an inartful comment, I’ll take a stab at this.

    – If rules against premarital sex were to be magically lifted by the Church, the number of 21-year-olds getting married at BYU would plummet precipitously.

    – Not all 21-year-olds who marry do it “just to have sex”.

    – But there are a lot of marriages between people who are too young, that would have been avoided. Some would be eliminated entirely, and in some cases, couples would wait longer to marry.

    – This is in no way a plea to drop the sanction against premarital sex.

    Those who believe that rules against premarital sex isn’t a factor in the younger age averages.

  87. Uh, didn’t finish my comment.

    Those who believe that rules against premarital sex isn’t a factor in the younger marriage age averages at BYU are pretty naive, in my opinion. What singles ward at BYU did you attend where this wasn’t a factor?

  88. All this talk about BYU students and marriage has my 11-yo daughter worried if “she’ll be popular” if she majors in math or science.

    (Note 1 – Yes, she’s already researching colleges. And not just BYU, but it’s in the mix.)

    (Note 2 – It’s sad that message about girls and science are making its way to 11-yo’s.)

    I told her that I don’t think she’ll have any problem having boys to be friends with, if she studies math or science at BYU.

  89. Queno,
    I disagree with the “precipitiously” part. Of course, most people I knew at BYU graduated unmarried (a result, undoubtedly, of graduating unmarried myself), so I didn’t know a whole lot of married 21-year-olds. My roommates and friends who did get married while there, however, didn’t choose their timing to minimize the waiting time for sex; rather, they timed their marriage to fit best with school and rental apartments, etc.

  90. I was a 21-year-old, married freshman; my wife was 20. It had absolutely nothing to do with sex. We simply knew we had found our soul mates, so we had no desire to wait longer to get married.

    I think that is true of *way* more Mormon students than those who marry at that age to legitimize sex. Are they aware that they will be able to enjoy that benefit if they get married? Of course. Is it a natural extension of our prohibition on premarital sex? Obviously. Is it the primary reason most choose to get married? I seriously doubt it.

  91. The most interesting thing I have read on BCC for a very long time. Thanks for sharing.

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