LDS Wealth

Different religious groups often show affinities with different social sectors. While on the one hand this is not surprising, on the other it challenges the universal ideals contained in the simple injunction to “go unto all the world”.

For Latter-day Saints details of its social profile are trickling in as censuses and surveys increasingly include religious membership, and specifically Mormons, in their reporting and as scholars increasingly ask questions of those data. In Mexico, for example, the 2000 census shows how Mormons differ from other Mexicans at the aggregate level.

We can take the wages received by Mexicans according to religious memberships and divide them into three categories—one minimum wage and below, between one and three minimum wages, and three minimum wages and greater. A minimum wage is not an absolute amount, because it varies according to the economic realities of each area reporting. But as a comparison we can say it is roughly $5.00/ day.

Once separated we notice that almost 50% of Adventists, 40% of Pentecostals, 43% of mainline Protestants and 25% of Jehovah’s Witnesses make only one or less than one minimum wage. In contrast 20% of Catholics and only 13% of Latter-day Saints fall into this category.

Catholics, who are the vast majority of Mexicans have 48% of their membership claiming somewhere between one and three minimum wages. 46% of Latter-day Saints are found in this category as are 50% of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

While 26% of Catholics make three or more minimum wages 36% of Latter-day Saints do. Mormons in Mexico stand out for their relatively high incomes. How should one understand this?


  1. From those bits of data, I would conclude that the LDS population roughly matches the total population (mostly Catholic) in income categories. It is the Adventists and other Protestants who are outliers.

    I’m not sure what results I would have expected. From the common anecdotes, I would expect more LDS converts from lower-income groups, but with those incomes then being more upwardly mobile than the average. Perhaps the LDS presence in Mexico is old enough that the latter effect is dominating the former.

  2. Mark B. says:

    I must have missed something in my arithmetic of sociology class, but is there some reason that you speak of people making “three or more minimum wages” rather than “at least three times minimum wage”. I realize that standard English requires one extra word, but why write in ways that people have to read it twice to understand?

  3. I would say the LDS in Mexico and other parts do better than the general population because of values. Just like Jews(secular or religious), chinese or lebanese christians, the mormons are probably less likely to have a kid out of wedlock and are more likely to stress the importance of education.

  4. “In the United States there’s a Puritan ethic and a mythology of success. He who is successful is good. In Latin countries, in Catholic countries, a successful person is a sinner.”

    –Umberto Eco
    (who is Italian, so it’s not like I pulled this out of my, uh, hat)

  5. I assume that this data refers to self-identifying Mormons. This would have a significant impact on my reading of these statistics. According to church records, there are now 1 million members in Mexico, but I believe that only a couple hundred thousand Mexicans self-identified as Mormons in the most recent census.

    So when I look at the statistics in the post, I wonder if perhaps wealthier people in Mexico are more likely to remain active in the church. Based on anecdotal evidence, it sounds like missionaries have great success among the poor in Latin American (as Clair alludes to in #1), but perhaps such people are less likely to maintain a long-term engagement in the church.

  6. You are probably not going to want to answer all of these questions, but since this hits pretty close to home for my sort of research, here are the starting issues that come up:

    Is this a sample of those working or is it over the whole population or just the working age population? Similarly, are you tracking wages, earnings, or income? Are these numbers for the whole household or person by person?

    Typical things that affect earnings:
    Are Mormons clumped in certain regions of the country or does their age profile differ from the general population? How about educational attainment? Are they over or under represented in agriculture, self-employment, or government work? Are Mormons particularly concentrated in urban or rural areas? Do they have more or fewer children and are those children working? Are they more or less likely to send workers to the states to work? Are they ethnically or racially different from the general population? Do they work more or fewer hours than other groups? Do they have more or fewer income earners per household? Are Mormon workers more or less likely to be male?

    Since you are using the Census extract, and since there are lots of Mormons in Mexico, questions of statistical significance are not likely to matter.

    Also, a useful summary statistic, if you have it handy, is how much more self reported Mormons earn, on average, than other Mexicans as a percentage of average Mexican incomes.

  7. Hello all. Mark B. First. Sorry for the awkward language. It was not meant to be obscurantist. A good editor is always useful.

    Frank. Important questions. These percentages are calculated based on the total employed population 12 years of age and older as reported in the 2000 Mexican census. in Spanish the numbers are reported as “ingresos” which in English means ‘income” but then they are categorized according to what translates as standard minimum wage (sueldo mínimo). They are not household income.

    The “typical things that affect earnings” that you note are important here. I will give a brief overview.

    clumping: Mormons are overrepresented in the north and in greater Mexico City. Even elsewhere they are almost entirely urban, and not rural. These issues do impact earnings. But even if those are taken into account, Mormons stand out from he other groups. Mormons tend to be more highly educated, more likely to be formally married, fewer children, are less likely to be Indian language speakers. I will have to look at the sector of employment (I cannot answer that right now, but I think LDS do show a different distribution among employment categories.) Migration is a bit obscure. But this needs exploring. Don’t know if their Children work more, but rather think not. Anyway, since this is people twelve years or older and not household income, the issue is not as germane. Hours worked and earners per household? I do not know. I think Mormons are more likely to be male than the Protestants and less likely than the Catholics, but will have to check.

    I will have to get the last summary stat you request.

    So what are your impressions?

    These are people who self-report as Mormons, as several of you realized (Clair and CE), and not the numbers of members the Church claims for Mexico. The missionaries do report working with many ordinary Mexicans, and yet these percentages would suggest those who claim being LDS to the census takers are above the mean in terms of income. What happens to the rest?

    MoJo: Once upon a time Umberto Eco may have been right, but that time is passed. Hard work and economic success are highly valued in many Latin American sectors.

    Intriguing issues!

  8. Mark IV says:


    Another interesting question is whether the church attracts people who are already wealthier than the average, or if somehow being LDS causes income to rise. Is it possible to discern any hints from these data?

    Thanks for another interesting post.

  9. Randall says:

    I’ve never seen the data, but my guess is that the LDS population worldwide reflects comparative wealth. My siblings and I have participated in the church in many different countries. In these areas ex-patriate U.S. Mormons make a large contribution to the local economy.

    I also think the previous comments about the correlation between wealth and church activity are germane. The retention rate seems much stronger among higher SES converts, and people who do stick with the church seem to blossom in the Gospel (spiritually and financially).

  10. The missionaries do report working with many ordinary Mexicans, and yet these percentages would suggest those who claim being LDS to the census takers are above the mean in terms of income. What happens to the rest?

    Our church requires a high level of commitment on many levels, including spiritual, social, and financial. It requires a lot of time. And for members who encounter potentially difficult historical or doctrinal issues, it takes a certain amount of intellectual tenacity and flexibility to transcend disillusionment and reach a more nuanced, stable, sustainable faith.

    I would speculate that people with more education, greater financial security, and more stable family situations, may be better equipped to give the required level of commitment and find a sustainable level of engagement in the church. This might explain some of the statistics given in the original post.

  11. One very simple point that has direct bearing on activity:

    Lack of proper transportation effects more members here in greater Cincinnati than most people realize. Investigators often get rides to church; it’s very hard to maintain that over time. If the investigators becomes members, and if they continue to lack reliable transportation, eventually the rest of the congregation will be unable to continue providing rides. Many of these converts will end up drifting away for no other reason than they no longer are able to attend.

    I’m not sure if that translates well to your example in Mexico, but it’s one way that relative wealth can impact activity – and conversion rates in rural areas.

  12. As an almost empty nester who bought a mini van to take others to church, I second Ray’s comment. I think there is a difference in the way we fellowship people who we perceive as a step down from us as well, and if people don’t feel accepted they often don’t stay long enough to really understand the beauty and importance of gospel principles.

  13. David,

    My impression is that what you have is a mixture of the causal increase in wages from being a Church member mixed with the selection effect you are interested in of richer people being more likely to join or stay. From this raw data there is no way to tell the two effects apart without some pretty strong assumptions. But it is an interesting statistic nonetheless, as both are interesting effects even if we can’t separate the two easily.

    One thing that would be interesting is to look at second generation members compared to first generation members. Unfortunately that is not easy to do with just Census data.

  14. CS Eric says:

    Ray beat me to it, but I think transportation issues are a larger hurdle to overcome for the less affluent than are “historical or doctrinal issues.” It seems reasonable to assume that the less frequently one is able to attench church meetings, the less likely one is to self-identify membership in the church.

  15. My mission was in Oklahoma, but I think my observations can be applied to this topic.

    I also observed that active Mormons tended to be above average in wealth, compared to the rest of the town or county, (though they were very rarely in the top part of the upper crust- they tended to be upper middle class).

    I served in many rural, depressed areas, so I don’t think urban living alone can explain this. This apparent wealth even seemed to apply to members whose professions were what we would usually call “blue-collar”. I don’t know how many successful members I met who had started out as a welder, or construction worker, or a roofer, or electrician.

    Sometimes they ended up owning and operating their own businesses- others I knew had invested their savings in land and had become small part time farmers in addition to their day jobs.

    All of them worked very hard.

    On the other hand, almost all of the converts were poor. And by poor, I mean dirt poor. So poor that they could barely make rent for a trashy apartment/house (shotgun usually- that means LR, Kitchen, 1 Bath, and 1 or 2 Bedrooms, typical price to buy $30,000), all their clothes were threadbare, and the furniture looked like it had been picked up from a trash heap.

    I also witnessed several converts who I saw join while in this poverty end up becoming relatively successful in short periods of time.

    Of course, the majority of converts went inactive. So did converts stay active because they were successful? Or did they become successful because they stayed active.

    From my observations I conclude there were several things that contributed to those who experienced success:

    1: Mormon Culture is very Puritan. The Church preaches the Puritan Work Ethic. The church teaches to save money, which creates a source of capital for those who do. In fact the only other churches that I knew of that consistent preached the value of hard work and saving money were the most conservative of the Baptists. (Who showed similar patterns of blue collar success stories).

    2: Church callings teach several important organizational skills that train people to run their own finances and/or business. Employers notice these new skills and often promote 1to 2 years converts into management positions. (I don’t know how many times I heard that story).

    3: Social networking within the church enabled people to make connections with several people well above their income level. Questions about jobs and business was a pretty common topic in the hall in between meetings. In several wards there was one or two members who sort of had a practice of almost “sponsoring” a new member by connecting them to a job.

    I actually talked with several members about this topic. Sometimes they even brought it up, and would identify joining the church as the point that turned their life around financially as well as spiritually. I asked a lot of members who expressed this sentiment what they thought the reason was for this change in their financial success. There were three common answers which starting with the most common:

    1: “I stopped Drinking/Smoking, that saved me a lot of money right there. I never realized how much I wasted on that stuff until after I joined the church.”

    2: “I had more direction in my life. It seemed like I had a purpose that was more then just getting by. I guess I just stopped being lazy.”

    3 “I started thinking that maybe I could be successful. I talked to Brother Tomas and found out he had started out with about the same place as me and look at him now. If he could do it, why not me. I just never felt there was any hope until I joined the church, but after that, anything seemed possible.”

    Anecdotal evidence of course, but I think it provides a starting point for investigation.

  16. Randall says:

    This discussion poses a more difficult question:

    If church activity correlates with wealth (once again, a definitive case still needs to be made), is the same true for salvation? Is heaven more likely to be filled with people who were affluent in their temporal existence?

    Jesus definitely seemed to preach the opposite (i.e. the Beatitudes, the camel and the eye of the needle, and I disregard Talmage’s treatment of the matter). The Nephite cycle also seems to support the humble seeker of Christ over the devotee to an Affluency Gospel.

  17. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 11-12
    Why don’t some of these wards provide van service, in that case? If the inner-city Evangelicals and Pentecostals can afford that, surely the LDS can as well. I see church vans running around L.A. all the time.

  18. We have been told that the church will not allow that for insurance reasons. We actually have someone who would buy us a van if it were acceptable. Of course, then you need someone to drive it. I guess we could have a Transportation Coordinator calling.

  19. Noray, the Church self-insures.

  20. Eric Russell says:

    We rented a city bus once to pick everyone up for stake conference down in southern Brazil.

    It was worth it just for the look on the faces of the folks who were standing at bus stops when we passed by without stopping.

  21. Maybe the person who said that was mistaken, but not having control over who drives a “church van” could result in increased liability for the church, self insured or otherwise. I expect there would be some concern about maintenance as well unless a vehicle was purchased new or with an extended warranty. Certainly the church is not going to spend the money to provide new vans for every Branch and ward. Most units would not be able to buy one with local donations. And then there is the cost of gas!

    Perhaps the whole ‘self reliance’ thing gets in the way of providing church owned transportation too.

    Actually I am in favor of members providing rides for members. I think it helps build the community of Saints.

  22. david knowlton says:

    The issue of rides, and the comparison with Churches which do provide vans, shows how the Church can select in favor of some kinds of members.

    As Randall points out, this situation raises difficulties if one thinks through theological implications. Who is heaven for?

    As Cicero and Frank point out, there are often advantages to being a member of the Church that can lead to improvement’s of a member’s financial situation. One could add to these the perpetual Education fund which helps people obtain an education that improves their social standing. There is still the earlier question, though. Does the Church’s structure favor some kinds of people over others? While the two concerns are probably not separable given the data we have they are important.

    The anthropologist in me is not surprised that different denominations favor different social groups. But the religious person wonders about the sacred significance.

  23. I’m about to move into downtown Columbus (about 20 miles from my home.) I’m going to be right near the border between the four Columbus stakes — if I plan things right, I’ll actually stay in my stake, and even in my same building; a move just two blocks to the north or south will put me in a whole other stake, despite the fact that my current stake boundaries extend all the way to the border with West Virginia. But no matter where I move downtown, I’ll have a half-hour drive to my assigned ward building — it’ll be in Grove City, Reynoldsburg, or Hilliard.

    Shockingly, the economic profile of active Columbus-area Mormons is much closer to the suburban Pickerington/Dublin/ Clintonville/Bexley average (these are the places where the mayor, the president of Ohio State, the head of the Limited corporation, etc., live) than to the downtown population. From what I understand, this central area was so needy that the original wards were dissolved and the population divided amongst the stakes: if I stay in my stake, many of my neighbors will be Section 8 recipients but my ward members will be some of the wealthiest people in the state.

    It doesn’t hurt that HUGE numbers of Mormons out here go to dental school/law school/etc. — and all the kids, even in the poorest, most dysfunctional wards, at least graduate from high school. There’s also all the RM “I can speak a foreign language and know how to pay my rent on time and talk to people” experience.

    But I imagine the same kinds of things affect these numbers in Mexico (and everywhere else, too.) And they have the PEF, and at least occasional contact — even from a distance — with very successful people (visiting GAs, etc.) on top of everything else, which opportunities aren’t all that common for most Mexicans, I’m sure.

  24. Sarah, if you end up in Reynoldsburg, say hello to the Brevards. Their daughter dated my little brother for a short time out in Utah.

    Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

  25. This discussion reminds me of something my finance professor at BYU said. He was trying to dispel the myth many members have that being financially prosperous is a sign of righteousness. He said that in his experience the opposite is true: there is generally an inverse relationship between a person’s wealth and their level of righteousness.

  26. This may be a radical idea but how about…

    They pay TITHING.

    Do we really believe that paying tithing will open up the windows of heaven?

  27. In my experience I have found there is little correlation between wealth and righteousness, or wealth and wickedness.

    Instead I have found that love of wealth tends to be highly correlated with wickedness. Whether it’s the wealthy who love their own wealth or the poor who covet the wealth of others. Either tends to lead to significant sin.

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