The Implications of Encouraging Early Marriage in a Global Church

This is the first of a two part response to Elaine Dalton’s recent BYU Devotional speech.

Globally, early marriage is inextricably linked to development and human rights concerns. I believe that the words of a general officer of our worldwide church should be considered from a worldwide perspective. In this light, some of her conclusions are troubling.

A few facts about some of the places in the world the church is growing:

Percent of girls marrying before age 18:

  • South Asia   48%
  • Bangladesh  27.3%  (before age 15)
  • Africa 42%
  • Kazakhstan 14.4%

Even within the U.S. church, there are troubling examples that I’ve witnessed firsthand of seventeen year old girls, still in high school, getting married.

  • A seventeen-year-old girl married her returned missionary boyfriend in the temple. A few months later he called the high school to excuse her when she was sick  and they insisted they needed to talk to a parent (clearly someone at the high school did not know that this is not legally necessary once the child is married in Utah). This happened in the last 10 years in the SLC metropolitan area. Her parents urged the marriage because they worried that she and her twenty-something boyfriend would otherwise break the Law of Chastity.
  • A young Mormon Arizona couple, again the bride was seventeen, had to call home before boarding a cruise ship to their honeymoon because she was underage. Again, the couple was urged to marry because it was better than, “living in sin.”

While marriage at age 17 is not the norm in the church, I imagine it could be (or younger) in parts of developing world where the church is growing quickly. And while Sister Dalton would likely deny that she is advocating child marriage, the impact of her words could encourage girls to dismiss the concerns of their parents and marry too young, or encourage parents to push early marriage. In some cases, her words could encourage parents to allow underage marriage. It behooves us to realize that this practice is not only unwise, it actually violates international human right norms.

Child marriage occurs when one or both of the spouses are below the age of 18. Child marriage is a violation of Article 16(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The 2012 UNFPA report Marrying Too Young, End Child Marriage points out that, Many girls, for example, may have little understanding of or exposure to other life options. They may “willingly” accept marriage as their allotted fate.”  When girls think their virtue is so important that they are getting married at age 17 so as to protect it, we have a problem. When girls are taught that it would be better to marry at 17, 18, or 19 (or younger) instead of losing an intact hymen, that is coercion. They feel, in fact, they have no other options. Their human rights are being violated.

There are sure to be readers who feel this talk does not apply globally (although I’m not sure why not), therefore it’s ok for President Dalton to promote early marriage in Utah where the average age of first marriage is 21.9 for women  and 23.9 for men. Note that the U.S. national average is 28.9 for men and 26.9 for women, and that Utah has the lowest marrying age in the country. But President Dalton wasn’t speaking just in Utah, she was speaking at BYU—where the World is Your Campus. Last month I heard of a young African student in his mid twenties preparing for study at a BYU campus. His fiancée would remain home in Africa while she finished high school and then they would marry when he returned and she was 17. Nearly half of all African women marry before they are 18. This talk would, and indeed I’m sure has, reinforced dangerous cultural norms not only in the U.S. church (it’s better to just hurry up and get married rather than have sex) but within the global church. Members from developing countries who study at the university and Americans who develop foundations from talks like President Dalton’s will carry her words with them abroad, with the stamp of God added to ideas that disadvantage women the world over; the idea that women can’t be too young to marry, that education for women isn’t that important, but that their virginity is.

I’m not sure what church demographics will look like in 30 years, especially in places like India where the church enjoys robust growth and where 47% of girls are married before age 18 and 18% before age 15, but I do know this:

For the period 2000-2011, just over one third (an estimated 34 per cent) of women aged 20 to 24 years in developing regions were married or in union before their eighteenth birthday. In 2010 this was equivalent to almost 67 million women. About  12 per cent of them were married or in union before age 15…

By 2030, the number of child brides marrying each year will have grown from 14.2 in 2010 to 15.1 million, that is over 14 per cent if current trends continue.

(See here.)

 It’s not just early marriage that is the problem. A top predictor of economic development the world over, and especially acute in developing countries, is the education level and number of women in the workforce. While it’s true that globally women and girls marry young because of poverty, marrying young coupled with scripted gender roles prolong the poverty cycle. Lack of education leads to lack of personal and familial economic development, which leads to early and frequent childbearing, which leads to more poverty and more lack of opportunities, high malnutrition, high infant mortality and high maternal mortality. We live in a world where currently 15 million children die of hunger every year.  We live in a reality where encouraging early marriage and scripted gender roles will keep the world underdeveloped and women and children especially impoverished. As followers of Christ, we aren’t supposed to create poverty, we’re supposed to alleviate it.

Alleviating poverty, especially in the developing countries, takes a multi-tiered approach—an approach that has everything to do with human rights, and everything to do with women getting them. Including lobbying. Stay tuned for part II.



1) There are simple things the church can do to send a message that indeed, there is such a thing as too young, like banning temple marriage before 18 to be in compliance with the Declaration of Human Rights.

2) I’m sure many readers entered into early marriage and are happy. I’m glad this works for them. However it is irrelevant to the post which does not intend to correlate marital satisfaction and age of marriage, but instead correlates cultural coercion and economic outcomes with age of marriage. Please keep that in mind before posting comments about how happy you are after marrying young.


  1. Hi mmiles,
    This post would benefit from a link to Sister Dalton’s talk, especially if there are going to be two more posts on the same subject.

  2. Thanks Jenny. A link has been added.

  3. Nicely done, mmiles.

  4. Sharee Hughes says:

    I found this post rather disturbing, but I did not hear Sister Dalton’s talk. Is there a link to it somewhere? Is it on BYU’s web site? I feel I could comment more intelligently if I could hear (or read) the talk. I can’t imagine the church advocating early marriage.

  5. The talk is linked.

  6. Sharee Hughes says:

    Thanks for adding the link.

  7. melodynew says:

    Wow. This is amazing. Looking forward to the follow-up.

  8. I guess I’m going to have to stop reading BCC, because more and more often I’m the one left to make the reality check. Among other examples in this point I could point to is this:

    When girls are taught that it would be better to marry at 17, 18, or 19 (or younger) instead of losing an intact hymen, that is coercion.

    Whether or not the law of chastity is invoked as a reason for marriage at any age, your hyperbole that “law of chastity” = “intact hymen,” or that church teachers are making that equation, is so belittling and ludicrous as to make the entire post suspect. Please, demonstrate a little more understanding and respect for gospel principles, or don’t expect serious readers to take you seriously.

  9. Ardis,
    I understand your point. However on a global scale, I assure you an intact hymen most often is equated with morality and chastity. That is why you can pay a doctor to make it look like you are virgin in many countries. That is the field the church plays in when proselytizing in many parts of the country. It, unfortunately, often reinforces the notion that virginity for women is the most important thing when choosing a bride. I believe in the Law of Chastity, and I certainly don’t think we should quit teaching it, but in developing countries–this is a reality.

  10. Speaking generally, I agree with the point you are trying to make, but, along with the statement Ardis highlighted, I was struck by the following:

    “like banning temple marriage before 18 to be in compliance with the Declaration of Human Rights . . . I’m sure many readers entered into early marriage and are happy. I’m glad this works for them. However it is irrelevant to the post”

    So, happy marriages that occurred earlier than you would like are irrelevant. No room for disagreement of any kind in this “discussion” – no matter how well-considered or nuanced.

  11. Let me be clearer:

    The title says “encouraging”, but the footnote advocates “forbidding”. Those are two very different stances, and I would like more clarity on what really is the focus or point of the post. Is it not encouraging, or it is forbidding?

  12. Ray,
    Lots of women who were married at 15 would say they are happy. But that is too young, no? However again, this is about economics. Women who marry young are more likely to remain poor, die an early death, bear many children who also die in childhood, endure abuse, and live in poverty with no better outcomes for their children. Those are the facts. That is why this is a problem. If you don’t think it’s a problem, look at the numbers and think again. It is unethical to engender mass poverty. Engendering early marriage does just that.

  13. Ray, forbidding underage marriage is an excellent idea. Encouraging early marriage–even past 18, is a very bad idea. Clear?

  14. Crystal. I agree with your second statement and disagree with your first statement.


  15. I don’t want to threadjack, mmiles, so this will be my last: You’re responding to a church leader about church teachings, yet you’re dragging in some version of a non-church definition of chastity instead of what women (and men! having no hymen, intact or otherwise, they cannot be chaste?!) are actually taught in the church setting. That does not work. Apples and oranges, and all of that. Unless you have credible support for the claim that the “intact hymen” perversion is what is being taught in church by church teachers to church members, then you’ve got a strawman on your hands when you fault church teachings for early marriage. I cannot take your argument seriously, and won’t be reading further.

    And as I said, this is only one of several similar points that wreck your argument as far as I am concerned. Others obviously are having a different reaction.

  16. Ray, Is that because you don’t believe the statistical data, or other reasons?

  17. Sharee Hughes says:

    Okay, I just listened to Sister Dalton’s talk. (Side note: Why is it that women leaders in the church always seem to sound so wimpy when they give talks? Where are all the Sheri Dews? Surely God did not break the mold when he made her.–we need more really strong women.) Anyway, I didn’t get that she was advocating young marriage. When she said “don’t let anyone tell you you’re too young,” she meant no one is to young to be a true disciple of Christ. Or did I miss something? And she was talking to college student, not 17-year old high school students. I do think 17 is much too young to marry, but even 12 is not too young to be a disciple of Christ. I look forward to your additional posts on this issue.

  18. Doesn’t matter, since your view is the only legitimate one, in your own words – in the post and in the comment to which I’m responding. As I said, you’ve constructed this post with no room for disagreement of any kind, even from someone who, again, agrees with much of what you’ve written. I actually do agree with much of what you’ve written, but I won’t play the game you’ve constructed.

    I’ve commented all I will to you, directly, although I will reserve the right to respond to others.

  19. Statistics may be the third form of dishonesty, after white lies and damned lies. But if you’re going to cite statistics in support of your thesis, it would help if you read them correctly.

    In the article you linked to, the State of Utah, where the median age of first marriage is lowest of any of the 50 states, the median household income is 13th highest in the nation, and the poverty rate is the 12th lowest in the nation.

    So much for early marriage resulting in an impoverished population in the state of Utah.

    Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that you misread the statistic in a way that supported your thesis.

  20. More on those statistics–do you have any idea if the income and poverty statistics were adjusted to take into account cost of living differentials between states, or between urban and rural areas, or to take into account the extent to which persons in rural areas may have non-cash income? I’d guess that the produce from the garden, the eggs from the hen house, the bacon and other pork from the pigs and the venison from the autumn deer hunt don’t get counted in the statistics.

    And, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the fifth standard work? Sorry.

  21. Left Field says:

    I’m not really up to sitting through a 30+ minute speech waiting for the passages you have in mind. Could you manage to quote what she said that you’re responding to?

  22. Mark B.
    Thanks. I did read that incorrectly and have thus edited the post. That’s interesting and I’d love to see some studies on why this might be the case. However, globally, my thesis stands.

    Sharee Hughes,
    Maybe give it another listen. It is very clear it is about marriage.

  23. Mark B.,
    Standard of living is by GDP per capita globally.

  24. Mark B, why are we talking about differences between states in the US, when the post is about how Sis. Dalton’s advice might play out in developing nations?

  25. I just listened to the talk as well and Sharee Hughes is correct. You have misinterpreted the talk to fit a gripe you wanted to write about. You also misinterpreted the poverty rate of Utah as has been pointed out. That’s two strikes.

    You should probably reconsider whether to write parts two and three of your response to the talk.

  26. Benjamin Park says:

    Great post on an important topic, MM. Well done.

  27. Cynthia, the operative word is “might” – and absolutely anything “might” happen.

    Here is the heart of my issue with this post:

    mmiles just admitted that the thesis doesn’t apply to Utah (I agree) – which still is the heart of the LDS Church and establishes the cultural norms (both good and bad) of the Church, but it does apply globally in areas not influenced as heavily by the LDS Church (I agree) – but forbidding all 17-year-olds from marrying in the temple is an important aspect of fighting the non-LDS global situation (no logical connection).

    There are at least two other places in the OP where stats are misapplied badly, but the one that is at the heart of my concern is the one in which the entire thesis is said, explicitly, to be personal conjecture that is not in harmony with actual data. mmiles says that directly and openly. That is why I can’t take the OP seriously, even, again, as I agree with much of what it says. Whenever someone says explicitly that something is based on a view that can be imagined (because it has to be imagined, since it doesn’t fit the actual facts), the thesis fails completely for me. The thesis ceases to be a statistical argument and, instead, becomes a personal view – pure and simple.

  28. It starts around 20:24. “Don’t let anyone tell you (that) you are too young.”

    And she gives three examples, one of which is “come back when you have more experience.” (Yeah, that must be the one that applies to marriage.)

    She never ENCOURAGES early marriage. She DISCOURAGES delaying marriage for various reasons IF you feel the Spirit is prompting you.

  29. Left Field,
    Thesis: You women will be the examples to the rest of the world attacking the family.
    Main points:
    1. Virtue=sexual purity–without which you can’t have the Holy Ghost
    2. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are too young to marry (around 20:00)
    3. Know your roles (as women) and you won’t need to lobby for rights.

    Money quote: “Young women, you will be the ones who will provide the example of virtuous womanhood and motherhood. You will continue to be virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy and of good report. You will also be the ones to provide an example of family life in a time when families are under attack, being redefined and disintegrating. You will understand your roles and your responsibilities and thus will see no need to lobby for rights.”

  30. “yet you’re dragging in some version of a non-church definition of chastity”

    Ardis, I understand what you’re saying. But the post is trying to shed some light on how teachings about chastity might be heard and understood by people in cultures different from our own. They aren’t starting as some blank slate who has never heard anything about sex or chastity, and the church’s teachings will reach them and be absorbed exactly as we offer them without any misunderstandings. Instead, what we have are very strong pre-existing cultural understandings and definitions that have complex interactions with our teachings. So, what I’m saying is, mmiles isn’t “dragging in” the definitions, she’s pointing out that they are already there in cultures, and it could behoove us to think about that.

    “(and men! having no hymen, intact or otherwise, they cannot be chaste?!)”

    Well, actually, yes, that’s more or less exactly how a lot of cultures operate. With a definition of chastity that only applies to women. It’s not that men are unchaste by this definition, it’s just that chastitiy as a concept doesn’t apply to them.

    “That does not work. Apples and oranges, and all of that.”

    This is basically EXACTLY the point of the post, that our teachings and their culture are apples and oranges, and this might result in some cultural misunderstandings.

    “Unless you have credible support for the claim that the “intact hymen” perversion is what is being taught in church by church teachers to church members, then you’ve got a strawman on your hands when you fault church teachings for early marriage.”

    Nowhere does she fault church teachings for early marriage in Bangladesh. She’s very upfront about not having stats specifically pointing to that. What does does have a clear case for is that (a) there are problematic cultural environments out there in the world, (b) these might interact badly with the way we talk about some things in the church (think baking soda and vinegar–it’s not baking soda’s “fault” but when combined with vinegar, explosions result).

  31. Ray,
    My thesis is that encouraging early marriage globally will engender poverty. How does not square with the data?
    Secondly, I’m confident that women who marry later, on average, in Utah or in the church anywhere-are more likely to have more education and live outside the poverty index than those who marry earlier.

  32. Cynthia L: The post cited an article listing the median ages for first marriages in the 50 states, and, in support of her argument that societies where people marry early are poor, she pointed out, wrongly, that Utah was the 13th poorest state in the nation. Which, as Ray says, bursts the bubble of the statistical argument.

  33. A few points, if I may:

    * The issue of early marriage is a *very* different one from the issue of child marriage, and conflating the two is intellectually sloppy.
    * Citing two (or even a handful of) cases where LDS youth have gotten married before turning 18 cannot be equated to a Church authority–differentiated from local leaders/parents–advocating such decisions as a matter of policy or doctrine.
    * Church leaders have long advocated marriage earlier rather than later for young adults as a way of (a) stressing the importance of families, obviously a central component of LDS doctrine; and (b) recognizing the reality that the older one gets and the more serious a relationship becomes, the more challenging it is to maintain the commitment to the law of chastity.
    * Each individual has to make the decision for himself/herself as to when the appropriate time/age is for marriage…and in virtually every case, that decision is made by an adult–whether 18 or 48. Judging people for such choices on the basis of financial considerations, educational accomplishment, or other metrics strikes me as arrogant and contrary to the gospel.

    One last point: I do believe that as the Church continues to evolve and become increasingly international and less homogenous demographically that it will be (and is now) incumbent upon the Church’s leadership to be aware of and sensitive to local conditions, cultural mores, and challenges. Dealing with these issues will be (and is now) extremely complex and will (and does) require patience, understanding, and a commitment to gospel principles…along with a willingness to avoid the temptation of imposing parochial (read: Utah- or United States-based) cultural beliefs on a global membership. That concern is one that is expressed at least implicitly in the original post, and rightly so IMO.

  34. Mark B,
    It bursts the bubble of the argument it applied across the board in Utah. It didn’t burst the entire argument.

  35. It should be noted that the church-run Perpetual Education Fund does provide educational assistance for some of those married women around the globe. See for example Carolina, who started her med tech training when married and pregnant with her third child

  36. whizzbang says:

    This kind of talk is vintage Pres. Kimball, Hartman Rector Jr. and a few other LDS leaders. I wonder if because some leaders got married young, granted that Elaine Dalton was 22 when she got married, but there is a sense that because they felt pushed into marriage that others also need to get married young-if I have to do it you have to do it.

  37. whizzbang says:

    the child bride situation is rampant in the church. This past week a recent RM got engaged, he is maybe 22 and she is young then that and they have only been dating since Christmas. A couple in our ward she was 17 and her parents had to sign the papers, they are still married but barely though.

  38. whizz, it could be a similar dynamic but more kind than that–“I got married young, and love everything about might life, and I want the same for you.” The problem is that this might work out well oftentimes in certain socio-economic subcultures of Utah but, statistically, is a disaster in developing nations.

  39. Whizzbang,
    In all fairness, I wouldn’t call it rampant. I still think it’s the exception.

  40. (Also a disaster even in many seemingly ideal Mormon couple situations. Though, again, works for some.)

  41. “He is 22, and she is younger than that.” *sigh*

    I was 21, and my wife was younger than that.

    She was 20.

    We are an example that fits this post?!

    Another example of using stats sloppily.

  42. On the other hand, the delay in marriage age in developed countries, and the accompanying decrease in childbearing, is an impending economic disaster in those countries. Western Europe and Japan (and soon enough, the United States) face a demographic cliff because the birth rate is below the replacement rate, and does not produce enough workers to pay for the welfare state in an ever older society.

  43. Left Field says:

    After listening to the passage in question, I have to agree that “Don’t let anyone tell you you are too young” is not about marriage. It’s about not putting off good choices. She’s referencing Paul’s epistle to Timothy and reiterating that despite their young age, her listeners should be “an example of the believers” Paul did not tell Timothy that he should marry young; he said that Timothy should live the gospel and not let anyone use his young age to be dismissive of Timothy’s life experience and choices. Dalton saying that young people are capable of making crucial decisions, and refers to the ages of 18-30 as the time when she made crucial life decisions including marriage. I’m not getting anything about marrying younger than 18 out of this.

  44. whizzbang says:

    Move to Alberta! haha! it’s all over there, it is sick to hear about girls moving there and all of a sudden you hear they are engaged and you’re thinking you just graduated from YW like a little awhile ago… #37-I see what you are saying, I don’t like the idea of well it worked for me so it will work for you, it’s like here try my glasses! Personally, I bought into the get married as fast as you can scene, hook line and sinker and regret it, I got divorced.

  45. Ray,
    How is that sloppy? This is a post about socio-economics and age of first marriage. We can decide if you fall into the statistical data if you give us all of your economic data–your household income, employment level and where you have fallen on the poverty index over the course of your marriage. But please don’t. That’s highly personal.

  46. “it’s like here try my glasses!”

    LOL, perfect.

  47. Cynthia,

    There are at least two very clear theses in this post:

    1) Encouraging girls to marry at an inordinately young age tends to lead to poverty and the restraints imposed by poverty.

    I’m not arguing against that thesis. I agree with this thesis, although I do think mandating 18 as a world-wide minimum age of marriage for women (especially without mentioning any restriction on marriage age for men or discussing differences in average marriage age among countries) is misguided and more than just a bit parochial.

    2) All organizations, including the LDS Church, ought to forbid marriage before the age of 18 – globally, in all cases, without exception.

    I disagree with that thesis, and that thesis is getting ignored completely in all the follow-up comments by mmiles.

    There is not one thesis in this post; there are at least two. Denying that and focusing strictly on one thesis (#1 above) – and accusing people of denying “the data” who aren’t arguing about those particular data is sloppy.

    In other words, what I said at the beginning: This is an extremely sloppy statistical analysis, and one of its core theses isn’t supported by the data (and the central evidence had to be changed when brought to attention – but the fact that the central evidence was wrong didn’t injure the thesis in any way?).

    I also agree that the talk doesn’t state with any degree of certainty that young women should rush into marriage at an early age. I see that claim as seeing what is assumed to have been meant.

    Finally, as I said initially, the post and subsequent comments are constructed in such a way that the case is closed and anyone who disagrees is dismissed as ignorant and backward. It’s a rigged game.

  48. “We can decide if you fall into the statistical data if you give us all of your economic data”

    Ray’s personal situation is beside the point anyhow. No matter what his own personal case shows, he is just one anecdote.

    Can we get back to talking about Bagaladesh, please? Anybody see what the original post is about? Anybody?

  49. Mark B.

    Left Field,
    As I pointed out, surely Elaine Dalton is not encouraging child brides–but in other parts of the world where the church is growing, her words could be interpreted to be an OK to underage marriage.

  50. “Ray’s personal situation is beside the point anyhow. No matter what his own personal case shows, he is just one anecdote.”

    I agree totally. That’s the point I have been making.

  51. Cynthia L: If you’re dismissing Ray’s experience as “just one anecdote” you should probably dismiss Whizzbang’s sad story the same way. Laughing and calling whizzbang’s anecdote “perfect” suggests that it’s not the small sample size that troubles you, but the failure of some stories to conform to your preexisting biases.

  52. Ray, I think we have all got the message that you didn’t like the post. You are wrong about what was “central” to it though. It’s a post about the international church. The Utah thing was a side/supporting example. Also, it’s odd that you think a footnote is a central thesis. Really?

    Do you think there is an age before which “All organizations, including the LDS Church, ought to forbid marriage – globally, in all cases, without exception”? 13? 15? Or you are against all rules like that that don’t have exceptions, no matter what the cutoff used?

    If you think that having “global, in all cases, without exception” ban is ok, but you just want to set the age lower than mmiles, can we just calm down and say that you have a minor disagreement?

  53. Cynthia speaks truth. The idea of this post is, as Cynthia pointed out in #29–how these words are heard by other cultures may be very different than how we hear them. My concern is the implications for members in developing countries, like Bangladesh-where the church is growing. And Pakistan, with at least 12 branches, and India, with a stake. Early marriage is a huge problem for members in developing countries.

  54. Mark B, did I call her ancedote perfect? No. I called her analogy of one-size-fits-all being a fallacious approach “perfect.”

  55. In other words, I called her clever rejection of anecdote-based argument “perfect.” And then you said I was endorsing anecdote-based argument. I’m sort of at a loss to understand how you managed to do that.

  56. Rhetoric Matters says:

    42 and others. You may interpret her as not talking about marrying young, but the reality is is that Sister Dalton says “Don’t let anyone tell you that you are too young.” Then cites as one example of those following worldly philosophies mockingly instructing to “Delay marriage until you have a little more financial security and schooling.” And then, and this is the important part, gives as her own personal example a story about gaining the faith to marry young (saying over and over “we were so young”) which is then bookended by another “don’t let anyone tell you that you are too young.” I would be much more inclined to agree with you that she’s not talking about marrying young, but instead the side examples she sprinkles in, if she had not punctuated her counsel with a story about marrying young. It’s a classic way of making a point and if she was not meaning to give it that large of a punch, it’s irresponsible rhetoric at the least.

  57. Rhetoric Matters says:

    Or in other words, could someone coming across this talk find support for marrying younger than they perhaps should?

  58. mmiles, if this is going to be an ongoing thing, could you include block quotes to the parts of Sister Dalton’s talk to which you are referring?

    Also – you make a good point in stating that parents seem to overly encourage their 17-year-old daughters into marriages to save chastity. I’ve seen similar situations, and I think it’s sad that they don’t trust their daughters to make it a little while longer. If they have been teaching the right principles, they shouldn’t have to worry. After all they can do, they have to trust that their girls can do the right thing. Although I can see where maybe they don’t trust the boys, I would never push a high schooler daughter of mine into marriage. Given, I have a lot of years ahead of me to get to that point (heck, I don’t even have kids yet!), but I certainly am glad I didn’t get married til I was 24.

  59. This is an excellent post. So glad to see people actually thinking about the non-US implications for the things that come over the pulpit. Looking forward to subsequent installments.

  60. The pushback on this thread seems so unnecessarily defensive. Who thinks we all couldn’t be doing a better job sending empowering messages to young women around the globe, making statements that encourage and uplift them spiritually but also addressing their educational, financial and psychological needs. Couldn’t we do better? Wouldn’t it help if we encouraged the marriage age to rise rather than fall? Don’t we have a responsibility to understand the existing context in developing countries?
    What happens when you entertain the idea that mmiles is pointing out a legitimate problem that could use some humility in addressing? She didn’t accuse Pres Dalton of anything unholy, she never claimed the woman wore pants to church for goodness sake…

  61. Marintha, I’d love for you to clarify the causality of your argument for me. Do you think the evidence shows that early marriage causes poverty, that poverty causes early marriage, or that the two are correlated but causality is not clear? Further I wonder: do you see unwed motherhood as a similar social phenomenon, at least in its relationship to poverty? Is there any way to compare which is worse in terms of outcomes, early marriage versus early unwed motherhood? I’m interested mostly for selfish reasons, because I have all sorts of opinions on these questions and I’d love to wield the statistics confidently — but I’ve never been able to really get a grasp on the literature.

  62. Great post. My favorite moment in her talk is when she says, “Don’t let old paradigms become your parameters.”…and then proceeds to promote the very old paradigm of marrying young.

  63. Cynthia L. Sorry. I read too quickly and paid less attention to the point you made than the one that I thought would be fun to refute. First time that’s ever happened in the Bloggernacle.

  64. didn't delay marriage and happy for it says:

    Going off of this here: “Then she cites as one example of those following worldly philosophies mockingly instructing to “Delay marriage until you have a little more financial security and schooling.”

    Has there ever been any counsel from church leaders about waiting to marry if the spirit so dictates?

    Or has the counsel always been a steady drumbeat of “don’t delay, don’t delay, don’t delay?” and anything else is Satan’s influence.

  65. Rosalynde,
    The studies are pretty clear. Women and girls marry young because of poverty. Early marriage is a symptom of poverty. For example, after the fall of the Soviet Union the marriage age dropped significantly, especially in the most volatile states where there were poor prospects for economic development. If the family remains poor then the daughters have little opportunity for educational advancement, and thus marry young. It creates a cycle–if they marry young–they can’t climb out of poverty. They can’t contribute to the family income as well, because of lack of education and lack job opportunities. One way of curbing early marriage in developing countries is by offering scholarships for higher education, and thus giving girls other options. They will then marry later, have fewer children, and have more resources for the children they do have (and more surviving children of the children they birth). Of course, gender rights are critical, coupled with economic development.

    Secondly, as far as single motherhood versus married families are concerned in the developing world–I don’t know as much about that. I can point you to a handful of studies–but it’s not an area I research currently. Because of the status of women, a married household often fairs worse than an unmarried one in developing countries. Women are often more able to, and are willing to allocate resources toward children without a man there. Children often fair better in single households for this reason.


  66. rosalyndewelch says:

    Thanks, Marintha. So, forgive me: if poverty causes early marriage, then the root cause of the poor outcomes is actually poverty, not early marriage, and thus going after early marriage will be ineffective as long as poverty persists, right? Indeed, mightn’t one read the interesting post-USSR data as suggesting that there’s actually something *adaptive* about early marriage in resource-scarce situations? Poverty soars, marriage rates drop — people are responding to some incentive there.

  67. rosalyndewelch says:

    (Also: I finally watched the Dalton speech — and wow, that is not at all the talk I had expected. I had thought that the “lobbying” quote was the centerpiece or main thrust of the talk — not at all, it’s just one isolated sentence in a post-script to her main points about discipleship. Neither did I hear her advocate extremely early marriage, simply the commonly-repeated advice for BYU students about not delaying marriage. I think your points still stand, but I’m heartened that this was not the fiery smackdown I had expected from reading isolated quotes. That said, her understanding of discipleship bears very little resemblance to my own.)

  68. For the record, my parents married when my mom was 16 and my dad was 19 and I strongly agree with the overall argument and conclusion of this post (and I’m confident that both my still happily married parents would too).

    Rosalynde (re #65), I think the point is that early marriage, even as a response to poverty, exacerbates the problem rather than mitigating it, hence the cycle described in the research Marintha cites.

  69. ” Indeed, mightn’t one read the interesting post-USSR data as suggesting that there’s actually something *adaptive* about early marriage in resource-scarce situations? Poverty soars, marriage rates drop — people are responding to some incentive there.”

    Exactly right. Going after early marriage alone is clearly not the answer for the reasons you cite. However, poverty will persist until it ends. It is still a piece of the cycle–a key factor once poverty has set in. That is why there must be a multi-faceted approach. My concern is that if a family, in India-for instance, grasps onto political, cultural, and religious rhetoric (including our own) that confines women to scripted gender roles (or is interpreted as such),it further influence the choices, or lack of choices, that women have. A family may decide to allocate resources for something a bit more superfluous than their daughter’s education if her place is going to be in the home anyway. I’ve seen this close up in other countries. It’s a cost benefit analysis–but to assume it’s always a trade off between eating or sending your daughter to school is erroneous.

  70. Is there a minimum age for temple marriage, or is it just a matter of whether you are old enough to get legally married in that state/country? Are there 13-year-old brides getting married in the temple? That seems relevant to the question of whether or not we should/need to ban temple marriages before age 18.

    I’m not a fan of telling people who are technically adults that they’re too young to get married. (Telling them that they’re too immature or too stupid, sure, but not too young.) However, I can’t think of any reasonable justification for getting married before you’ve finished high school. If you have to finish high school before going on a mission, can’t we tell the youth they also need to finish high school before getting married? But that’s also a tangential issue.

    As to the primary point of this post, I agree that our leaders should be more conscious of how their remarks can be interpreted in parts of the world where the cultural norms differ drastically from those in the U.S. (or other developed/Western countries). It’s not common in the U.S. (even in Utah) for girls to drop out of school and get married in their mid-teens, so an American would hear “don’t let them tell you you’re too young to get married” and never think she means “don’t delay getting married, even if you’re only a freshman in high school!”–and of course that isn’t what Sis. Dalton meant at all. And to be honest, I have no idea how a Mormon in the developing world would interpret her talk (or if they’d even ever hear it), but it seems the general practice of encouraging young people to get married as soon as possible is problematic for a global church for the very reasons MMiles cited. The Utah anecdotes don’t move me, but the other stats are disturbing.

  71. When I first read this post, I thought the author highly underestimated the importance of chastity in Church doctrine. On additional readings, however, I see that she is concerned about how statements of the church are perceived overseas, specifically that Sister Elaine Dalton’s statements could be misconstrued to contribute to marrying too early.

    I agree that there are times when the Church and its institutions do not seem to take into account the circumstances of its members outside the U.S., and sometimes even fails to take into account the circumstances of its members outside of Utah and southern Idaho. An example is the time I was doing an internship overseas while attending BYU. The only time I had access to a phone where I would not have to pay excessive long distance fees was on a Monday. Being in Asia, however, it was still Sunday in Utah, and the automatic phone registration system in place at the time would not work, presumably because whoever administered the system felt that registering for classes on a Sunday violated the Sabbath. Well, it was not the Sabbath where I was trying to register. It was Monday, and I was irritated that a school with the motto of The World is Our Campus would not have the foresight to realize that some people are registering for classes from overseas in different time zones.

    That being said, I seriously doubt Sister Dalton’s remarks will get much attention overseas, and probably a minimum amount of attention outside of Utah. (I will also note that I cannot watch her remarks right now because the link apparently does not work overseas.) I remember attending the Tuesday devotionals at BYU and wondering what the comments of my friends and family living elsewhere would be when they read the various talks presented. Never once did any of them know about the devotional before I pointed it out. Internet communication is much more prevalent now than it was then, but I was not aware of Sister Dalton’s remarks until reading about them on this post just now. In fact, I cannot recall reading a single BYU Tuesday devotional since graduating 17 years ago. During that time, I have lived in two different U.S. states and two different countries in Asia.

    Relying only on quotes in the comments section because I cannot access her talk, I think Sister Dalton does make some good points for mainstream U.S. culture. Studies show that marriage age tends to increase with more liberal views of sexuality that are not in harmony with the law of chastity. That same phenomenon can be seen in the country I currently live, where people marry much later than they did ten years ago. This late marriage age has contributed to it having the lowest birth rate among OECD countries. Church doctrine teaches that the most important part of life is raising a family, and leaders have counseled that this should not be delayed until one feels he or she is financially well off. This attitude is the primary reason for the late marriage age and low birth rate of the country I live in, and now its government is dealing with a society that is aging too rapidly to adequately care for. I believe that attitudes that led to this consequence are what Sister Dalton is referring to.

    Church leaders have a difficult job. They give messages to millions of people in millions of different situations. I remember Elder Oaks relating in a priesthood leadership meeting at BYU that those in attendance should remember that fulfilling their callings should not be done at the expense of sacrificing their academic obligations. Then he paused and said he really hated to make statements like that because he knows there are some people that need to more committed to fulfilling their callings. He then noted that giving counsel in meetings is always risky, because there is always someone that needs to hear counsel of the opposite effect, or someone else that will take the counsel to the extreme.

    I think it is unlikely that Sister Dalton’s comments will encourage child marriage or overshadow the church’s long history of encouraging women to be well educated, but I do agree there are times when the Church needs to be more aware of its international scope when presenting certain messages. I have been heartened to hear visiting authorities in countries I have been living in, however, to clarify certain policies that affect membership in those countries. The internationalization of the Church will continue to be a challenge as it continues to grow. I think the best policy is for each of us is to realize that the Church is made up of imperfect people, including leaders, who will make mistakes, and do what we can individually to exercise our influence “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love.”

    And by the way, I do appreciate the post because it made me think and pointed out an issue that I had not deeply considered before.

  72. It is worth pointing out that capitalism has a major impact (an even higher one than democracy) on increasing women’s well-being and gender equality. See Michael D. Stroup, “Separating the Influence of Capitalism and Democracy on Women’s Well-Being,” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 67 (2008). In this case, we might want to advocate for increased globalization as well.

  73. Jessica F. says:

    This is a brilliant post. After having worked with research on age at first marriage, can I just say how much I LOVE this post.

    I really think that the church is stuck too much in the first world, upper middle class mind set and really have no idea what damage their words can cause.

  74. Jessica F. says:

    Mmiles. I am so incredibly thankful that you wrote this, I cannot tell you how much my heart is singing right now, that someone else cares about this.

  75. “…first world, upper middle class mind set…”

    That sums it up quite well.

  76. Peter LLC says:

    42: “On the other hand, the delay in marriage age in developed countries, and the accompanying decrease in childbearing, is an impending economic disaster in those countries.”

    Are you sure that couples in developing countries are having fewer children because they ran out of time to have more following a late marriage? This strikes me as a bold thesis in light of the dramatic increase in the number of unmarried couples with children as well as the substantial increase of married couples who are voluntarily childless in at least some of these developed countries. Besides, as long as prosperity is linked with population growth, economic disaster will always be impending in a world with finite resources.

    Anyway, the impending economic disaster of which you speak is easily and quickly solved with no need to hatch another generation of pension contributors (who will spend the first two decades of their lives entirely dependent on the system)–raise the retirement age.

  77. Researcher says:

    “On the other hand, the delay in marriage age in developed countries, and the accompanying decrease in childbearing, is an impending economic disaster in those countries.”

    Are you sure that couples in developing countries are having fewer children because they ran out of time to have more following a late marriage?

    I can’t imagine he’s implying any straight-line causality. The two things — modern higher marriage ages and decrease in birth rates — go together but one is not entirely caused by the other.

    About twenty years ago I did a study looking at a community before widespread use of birth control and found that a woman has about a 12-15 year period of childbearing, regardless of whether she starts having children closer to 20 or closer to 30, with the exception of super-fertile women, who don’t fit the pattern. If I remember correctly, getting married at the age of 28-32 may cut down the number of children from something like 10 to 7 or 8 to 5.

    There are two things at work in the developed countries: the delay in marriage age and the use of birth control. The delay in marriage age would tend to reduce the number of a woman’s children as stated at the end of the last paragraph, but the use of modern birth control in those countries would cut the birth rate down to the historically shocking level of one-point-whatever.

  78. hawkgrrrl says:

    I tend to agree that THIS talk won’t get play in developing countries. The message of not delaying marriage is ubiquitous and should be reexamined in light of growth in developing nations. My big question is why would someone stand in front of college students and effectively advocate to the female half of the audience abandoning their education or any desire to put it to use? That’s the real threat of early marriage at BYU. Women don’t need reasons to avoid taking their education seriously. We all need encouragement in college to knuckle down and apply our minds to the great opportunity of higher education.

  79. Amen, hawkgrrrl.

  80. Researcher says:

    And, one more thing. I read this post last night but didn’t have time to respond. This morning I see that most of my objections have been addressed by Ardis, Mark B., Rosalynde, Ray, and others so I’ll just go on the record of more or less agreeing with their comments, and also go on record objecting to the proof-texting of Elaine Dalton’s talk.

  81. I’m kind of shocked at the force of the push-back on this post. Why the defensiveness? MMiles was clearly writing, and directly addressing, the global implications of poverty and early marriage. What we have for replies are defensive anecdotes about how “marrying young wasn’t bad for them”. Great- there are always going to be folks who are exceptions. That in no way discounts the larger subject matter, and the implications on a global scale of what that mean.

    The data supports that there is a correlation between early marriage and poverty. Open for discussion, as Rosalynde and MMiles both illustrated, is causation, among other important economic factors. If we’re going to claim to be a global church, we cannot operate in a vacuum where we pretend our words should only be interpreted through the white, upper-middle-class lens in which they were delivered. “Early marriage” means something substantively different in Utah than it does in Bangladesh.

  82. WalkerW–#72
    I agree completely.

  83. Researcher says:

    “Early marriage” means something substantively different in Utah than it does in Bangladesh.

    But President Dalton wasn’t speaking to an audience in Bangladesh; she was speaking to college students at a highly competitive university.

  84. So we’re going to pretend there is no global dissemination of information these days? We’re going to pretend that the Gospel is for everyone, and the talks our leaders give are for the Saints, but not for “you” over there… in Not Utah?

  85. So, if we prooftext her talk, we can find evidence that she encourages underage marriage in the developing world?

    The tallk I listened to encouraged young people (whom she difines as being university age — 18-30, her physical audience in this address, seated before her) not to be afraid of their own youth.

    She repeated prophetic counsel, including the oft-given admonition to BYU students not to delay marriage.

    In her ten-minutes later comments about purity (which were not connected to the marriage comments or example earlier), she taught young women and young men both that they must be pure and virtuous, not that marriage is some insulator of virtue.

    mmiles, I believe your concerns about early marriage in the developing world are well-founded, and global data seems to support the concern. Certain cultural norms in those nations trouble many of us. But there is no evidence that Sister Dalton advocates such practices. it is true, she also does not denounce them in this address, but this is not an address about marriage or child brides. It is an address about discipleship and following prophetic priorities.

    Could she have said more about decrying the problem of child brides? Of course. But it may not have been the message she intended for the physical audience seated before her.

  86. Left Field says:

    Is this address going to be translated into Bengali?

  87. WI_Member says:

    I am surprised that Sister Dalton is not advocating/lobbying more for women to complete their college education, given that she was a task force member of a study done in Utah regarding women’s drop-out rates.

    Utah Women’s College Task Force

    The study details the benefits to women and families regardless of whether the women are in the workforce or at home, and identifies the LDS culture of placing more importance on marriage than education as one of the contributing factors to the high drop-out rate.

  88. Janie's Diction says:

    Exactly, hawkgrrrl. Stop undermining the efforts of those *already* engaged in getting an education. Why else were these things said to this target audience?

  89. “This late marriage age has contributed to it having the lowest birth rate among OECD countries. Church doctrine teaches that the most important part of life is raising a family, and leaders have counseled that this should not be delayed until one feels he or she is financially well off. This attitude is the primary reason for the late marriage age and low birth rate of the country I live in, and now its government is dealing with a society that is aging too rapidly to adequately care for. I believe that attitudes that led to this consequence are what Sister Dalton is referring to.”

    Of course it is. But telling people not to delay families for financial reasons can be a disaster in developing countries. While some parts of Asia have a low birth rate, parts of South East Asia/Central Asia do not. As you pointed out, prosperity changes cultural values-including sexual norms. Looking at some of these countries we see poverty not only lowers marriage age, we see increases in religiosity. Some interpretations of the Book of Mormon would argue this is a good thing–so would some Mormons. But religious and cultural norms in Southeast Asia and Central Asia can be extremely oppressive to women and it can take years, even with slow economic development-for women to have rights that should be afforded to all people,

    We seem to have this attitude within Mormonism that if a woman has fewer children, she is selfish, doesn’t want to be bothered, family isn’t important–or a number of other negatives. However across the world women have fewer children so they put more resources into their care. They have fewer children because family is so important. A lower birth rate is not always a bad thing.

  90. WI_Member-
    Can you link that study?

  91. Paul,
    As I stated in the OP, I don’t believe Sister Dalton is advocating child brides.

  92. WI_Member says:

    Rats, sorry the link didn’t work.

    Lots of good stuff there.

  93. Left Field says:

    I think that the resistance to the post is not really about the overall message (some church teachings are poorly stated or poorly thought out and as a result can be misapplied in other cultures). It’s about the use of Sister Dalton’s talk in particular as a jumping off point, especially without quoting or analyzing exactly what she said.

  94. Peter LLC says:

    “They have fewer children because family is so important.”

    I can’t help but think of Korea where the arms race to raise successful children is so taxing that one simply can’t afford more than a couple. I’m sure other factors are also at play (higher rates of educational attainment among women and greater female participation in the workforce, for example), but I don’t think one could accuse the country as a whole of not taking family very seriously.

  95. #67 Rosalynde – I think the fact that the “lobbying for rights” line was a weirdly interspersed and non-sequitor is actually what made it so troubling. If you are going to tell women in any way not to “lobby for rights” that deserves a serious treatment, not some brush off comment at the end of a talk. It feels like she is treating women’s rights as not important or a fait accompli. Either way it is very troubling to hear the general leader of our YW treat it so lightly. It leaves it cryptic and begs people to interpret it. Why put that in there? Clearly she was responding to something. It isn’t a fumbled misstatement. So far President Dalton has decided not to clarify what she meant, though maybe she will later.

    In trying to come up with the most charitable interpretation, I think there is good reason to believe given the context in her talk that she was referring to lobbying for rights within the Church structure. I think it is unfair to saddle her with accusation that she meant women’s rights out in the the world is an unfit cause for Mormon women. However, I don’t think it is unfair to point out that light treatment in the talk could lead people to interpret it that way and ask her to clarify. We are the Church that mobilized against the ERA and have a strong cultural strain which derides feminism pretty broadly. So its not crazy for people to assume it could be referring to that. I think it is fair to expect a leader of Sister Dalton’s stature and experience to be sensitive enough to these major gender issues in the church and society to be sophisticated in talking about these areas.

    Finally, lets go with the most generous interpretation (if you have a more generous or different one I would love to hear it!). Women in the church should feel “no need to lobby for rights” because “they understand their roles and responsibilities”. Does that mean that a women denied a right, even one given her within the church structure, shouldn’t lobby for it? For example, lets say you are a women in a stake that has decided that women are not to pray in sacrament meeting, in contravention of the current policy in the handbook (I know first hand of multiple stakes and wards where this is happening). Do we think that Sister Dalton is giving council that a women or women in that stake should take no action due to their “role”? I would hope not. So barring some other interpretation I haven’t thought of that seems to leave it as some small response to collective efforts within the church to increase the “rights” of women. She would be seeming warn these college age Mormon women that they should not be part of any such efforts. Does this mean that women who want to ask questions about women’s ordination, or women praying in general conference or inequalities in the temple should just be quiet? Is asking questions collectively “lobbying”? How about being involved in bringing together a group of YW leaders in a stake asking it to examine the resources put into YW and YM to see that they are roughly even or fix it if it is not? These all seem like reasonable actions to me. They all also seem like things that given Sister Dalton’s talk could be easily interpretted as discouraged. How about Pants? The only other really prominant collective action taken by women in the church recently that could be construed as lobbying for…cultural change…or something. Was this her way of saying, “young ladies if you understand your place you will understand that you have no need to participate in things like Pants”.

    Regardless of what one might think of any of these above examples and actions – you could think they are silly and misguided, Ineffective or even a big bold step toward apostacy – don’t you find it troubling that the reason given to these young women for eschewing such action is “not feeling the need” because they “understand their role”. I find that very troubling. I hope she takes up this topic again and tells us what she really means. I hope she lays out for the young women she leads a vision of when and how standing up for themselves is appropriate in different contexts. Until then, I think we have every right to be worried about what she said, what she meant, and how our young women are going to interpret it.

  96. Encouraging young women in the home is more influential, than some outside-their-realm grant or scholarship. If a daughter is highly and often encouraged to think only about education or at least learning how to be independent, I think it would vastly reduce the hurry towards an intimate relationship. There never should be a rush in choosing a companion.

  97. I have rarely seen an example of a post where commenters have so utterly misconstrued its message. I can only think it is deliberate.

  98. Another amen to hawkgirl. They way she was pushing marriage in the context of the actual audience she was speakng to I think deserves more attention and thought. As a man who was married young, 21 and only a few months after starting my bachelors to a woman who was only part way through her education, I don’t have a problem with marriage per se. I do have a problem with women dropping out of school and couples arranging their lives in ways that creates economic dependency so early on in marriage. This clearly happens all too often with devestating consequences for families that end up breaking apart but also for those that stay together. Having listened to the whole talk it seemed rather oblivious to these very real questions and problems facing BYU women who are trying to balance education, dating, marriage and family. It is really, really easy to read the whole talk as “young women you should be focusing on getting married and having a family. That is your divine destiny and role. Nothing else matters.” Now she doesn’t say “nothing else matters” directly but given context there should be some balancing and caveats in there. Just simple lines such as “this doesn’t mean you need to stop your education” or “don’t rush into it, listen to the Lord” or “many of you are married, some may get married before you leave here, and for some it may be after you leave here, the Lord has different paths for each of us” etc. The entirety of this talk was about women taking on the wife and mother role without delaying, no caveats, no recognition that the Lord’s path for everyone is not to fit into the mold of get married at BYU as soon as you can. As a father of two daughters, this is not what I want my daughter hearing at the Y. This type of thing taught over and over and over again at the Y, reinforced constantly by peers, teachers and ecclesiastical leaders almost caused my educationally ambitious and talented wife to almost not get her degree from a top school when the opportunity presented itself and then to drop out of school right before graduation after the huge challenges of a miscarriage despite all the encouragement I could give her. Thank God (really) for a branch president that sat us down and told her our marraige would suffer if our educational backgrounds diverged too much and counselled her to let us take on the debt to get her the degree she deserved. This is the first ecclesiatical leader (we were no longer at BYU) that really presented to her a nuanced view of balancing her own education and dreams with her role as wife and eventual mother. I know there are many great teachers, bishops and leaders at the Y who give similar council. I know there are probably some great BYU devotionals that more wholistically address these issues. However, this one felt to me like a complete throwback to the BYU where this was not the case. Honestly, I feel this a lot with Sister Dalton and her “pink manuals” because our young women so love things that are “feminine” and “crafty”.

    Maybe one of you can point me to a Sister Dalton talk that doesn’t feel like it comes from the 1950s or seems heaven-bent on helping us recreate them. Seriously, I would love to be directed to a few. It would make me feel better about her and I like to feel confident in our leaders.

  99. it's a series of tubes says:

    Hmmm, I note that several comments that disagreed with the OP appear to have been purged. Not all dissent is brooked, it seems.

  100. Rosalynde says:

    rah, I can certainly offer no defense of Sis. Dalton’s remarks re: “lobbying for rights.” I thought they were unfortunate, unnecessary, unkind, historically and socially uninformed, unclear; I really wish she hadn’t said it. I agree with your interpretation: she was referring to Pants, and other potential intra-church feminist collective action pushing for institutional or cultural change. I’ve expressed my concerns about the collective protest approach before, but I certainly don’t think Sister Dalton’s remarks were justified in response, and I fully agree that she ought to clarify what she means so that women won’t interpret her remarks over-broadly. I simply relieved that she wasn’t in fact pushing back even more harmfully and offensively.

  101. rosalyndewelch says:

    rah, you wrote: ” The entirety of this talk was about women taking on the wife and mother role without delaying, no caveats, no recognition that the Lord’s path for everyone is not to fit into the mold of get married at BYU as soon as you can.”

    Did you actually listen to the talk? That seriously wasn’t at all the talk she gave. She talked about serious discipleship, which she defines as scrupulously following prophetic counsel and illustrated with missionary work, youth gospel learning, and temple work./genealogy. The other stuff was a postscript of “personal counsel” she appended at the end of the speech. I find her notion of discipleship less than inspiring, but your reading mystifies me,

  102. “Thesis: You women will be the examples to the rest of the world attacking the family.”

    Um, how can that be the thesis when the first half-hour of her talk is addressed to both men and women?

    Also, note that her “don’t let people tell you that you are too young” comment comes after her excitement regarding the missionary age change. So she is giving ammunition for women who want to serve right at 19, and may be facing discouragement from those around them.

    Also, I think the concerns about “developing countries” would be a legitimate issue if this were at General Conference. It is not. It is not even a CES monthly devotional broadcast to the world. It was addressed to a specific audience. Do we really want to discourage church leaders from talking to groups? I attended a regional meeting where Sister Beck answered audience questions for about an hour. Do we want to shut that down because of what a woman halfway around the world might think?

    I actually agree with much of the OP, I just don’t see how it connects with this particular talk.

  103. Researcher says:

    I can only think it is deliberate. (RJH)

    That’s cryptic. Do you mind if I ask what you mean? What would the fact that people disagree with the original post, especially as it stood last night, mean beyond the fact that they disagree with the post?

  104. Rosalynde,

    I tried to make the point when I put the talk up for discussion on FMH. I clearly failed to steer the discussion that way though :) You and I completely agree on this on every level. The overbroad response by Mormon women to this does seem to indicate that some clarification is needed. She hit a nerve she didn’t mean to hit. The problem is that clarifying it will require really striking the nerve she did mean to hit and I don’t think, ironically, she wants that either. I do think it is somewhat sad that both you and I have to be relieved that she wasn’t pushing back more harmfully and offensively. That isn’t a good sign, because it means we think it was at least possible. At least it is nice to see us taking what one of our women leader’s says very seriously. It means we are paying attention and care. Still charity should rule the day.

    Intriguingly it does mean someone up there is paying some attention to pants and let women pray. I have no idea what that means for what we can expect in the future. It seems to me the people who are running these things ought to take this as a sign they have been somewhat effective at getting the leaders’ attention. Who knows where that will lead.

  105. Last Lemming says:

    As a thought experiment, how about we set aside statistical arguments for a moment and ask this? What if early marriage/childbearing were unambiguously disastrous for third world cultures mired in poverty, but delaying marriage/childbearing were unambiguously disastrous for developed countries with aging populations? How should Church rhetoric reflect that tension?

  106. rosalyndewelch says:

    rah, I didn’t realize who you were until I read your comment 104, and now I regret the snippiness of my tone in 101. :) I do think your summary mischaracterizes the talk as a whole, but I understand why it disturbs you. Cheers!

  107. Kevin Barney says:

    MMiles, thanks for this excellent post. I think this illustrates what I perceive to be a broader problem in our general church discourse originating out of Utah, including GA talks over the pulpit in the conference center. So much of the perspective of those talks is provincial, geared to the world these men know well, the Mormon corridor of the intermountain west. Often such talks will be fashioned in response to events in the local news there, and these random events are generalized into broad principles. But the effort to translate some local peculiarity in the news to a broader audience often fails, especially when the particulars of the motivating example are not disclosed. I keep up with Mormon news, so I can usually tell what a GA is alluding to, but most people will have no idea unless the particular fact situation is disclosed in the talk.

    Beyond that, we now are a global church, and this post illustrates well I think why general church leaders who address the church as a whole have to think hard how their words will be understood in the poor and developing nations of Africa, Asia and elsewhere. You can’t assume everyone in your audience grew up on a farm in Idaho. You can’t assume that the societal and cultural norm you are addressing is a 1950s Ozzie and Harriet. It’s a worldwide church, and before you give that talk to a worldwide audience you need to take a pass over it with that global perspective in mind. We are too accustomed to thinking locally and provincially, but we now live in a time when the majority of the membership of the church lives outside the United States. We need to take that reality seriously.

    Telling women not to lobby for rights might have in mind in-house events such as the pantspocalypse and let my people pray. But note the failure to identify what is being allluded to. By turning this from a perspective on a local phenomenon into a broad principle, people around the world are going to hear “women should not lobby for rights” in light of Indian women being raped on buses, that sort of thing. In the context of the developing world, saying women shouldn’t lobby for rights is a deeply problematic assertion, which is only made because we do not keep that worldwide context uppermost in mind when we speak.

  108. “I note that several comments that disagreed with the OP appear to have been purged. Not all dissent is brooked, it seems.”

    Oh my sigh…

  109. Kev, your point about India warrants an amen and an amen. I also agree that the context for her talk is likely Pantspocalypse or something similar and not rape and misogyny in India, but church leaders in SLC need to be specific lest the wrong message gets across. Down with Intermountain provincialism! Mmiles has it exactly correct.

  110. rosalyndewelch says:

    As a counterpoint to this discussion, I’m reminded of the wonderful concluding session of the “Women and the LDS Church” conference put together by Kate Holbrook. Matt Heiss, a church employee who specializes in third world int’l church growth, and Miriama Kallon, an incredibly strong and inspiring Ghanaian LDS woman, spoke on the ways in which church teachings can be empowering and transformative. Here is Tona Hagen’s summary of the session (cut and pasted from )

    “The opposite was true for Matt Heiss, a Church employee specializing in international growth, who drew on his experiences in West Africa, particularly Ghana, to argue that the church brings revolutionary ideas that make “the meaningful exercise of agency possible” for female converts through literacy, sisterhood, an open invitation to all, and respectful gender relations. His was a helpful reminder that LDS views of marriage which sometimes look “traditional” or “old-fashioned” in the United States are new and transformative in cultures that have traditionally devalued women’s education and personhood. Domestic violence, dowry systems that amount to little more than the sanctioned sale of women, marital abandonment, and lack of access to basic services are the tragic norm for too many women around the world, and the church’s teachings strongly counter these by giving women dignity and options.

    His statements were forcefully confirmed by the personal account of Miriama Kallon, a convert from Sierra Leone who radiated joy and gratitude for the church for lifting her from a war-torn country and a life with radically constrained choices (enduring sexual molestation in order to get an education, for example) to a place of self-esteem and empowerment. Mormonism offers her and her fellow West African converts a religious life that lets her speak directly to God, have a unique set of responsibilities and an expectation of being treated equally in a marriage, and a feeling that she now has options in her life.

    For me, one of the conference’s most moving moments was during the comments portion of the last session, when someone asked about Kallon’s experiences with war – which seems very distant and abstract for most Americans. She pulled out a Ziploc bag from under the table and explained it was a Humanitarian Services hygiene kit she had been given in 1997. When the house she was living in caught fire, she escaped with two things: her scriptures and that bag. She ended up in a river with other burned-out refugees. While waiting for long-delayed assistance, she blessed 25 women for three weeks with the contents of the kit. For me, it was a marvelous metaphor for how women (and particularly historians of women’s experiences) stitch, construct and cobble together lives of meaning and beauty from the fragments of a broken world. Many people can be helped from whatever bits of the past we can manage to salvage from the scorching of time, decay and indifference.”

  111. #86, et al. The point doesn’t seem to be that the talk might be translated into Bengali, or detailed in the Rwandan press, but that a university audience must be assumed as international (as should most others these days). Students will take what they learn at the university and return home to live it. In many cases, where home is in the developing world and/or where the church is young, they will be viewed as the authorities on what the church teaches and how it church is to function. The same is true for any public meeting, or any remarks that will be accessible over the internet. Consequently, it is a good idea for those speaking in authority to consider how their remarks might be interpreted outside a very narrow segment of world culture. There will be missteps, no one can be expected to understand or reasonably capture every nuance of every culture in every talk, Elaine Dalton is not a villain, etc., etc. But a call to awareness is timely given the increasingly global nature of both the church and communication. And a particular focus on rights and education of women is appropriate given their grossly less than equitable treatment in many parts of the world, together with perceptions (whether true or not) of the church as unsopportive of womens’ rights.

  112. rosalyndewelch says:

    Miriama is from Sierra Leone — my mistake.

  113. So what we need here is more correlation.

  114. mmiles (91) what you said in the OP is you think that Sister Dalton would deny she is advocating child brides: “And while Sister Dalton would likely deny that she is advocating child marriage…” In your post’s title you suggest that the church (including Sister Dalton), however, encourages early marriage, and then spend your post talking about the social economic impact of child brides.

  115. I really thought this was a non issue. I thought the church stopped advocating early marriage when their welfare riles began swelling unmanageably in the 1970s. I elieve that the fact that Sister Dalton was addressing a group of college students (age 18-26) rather than a group of youth (age 12-18) is relevant. College students, for the most part, are not too young to marry, and they are far less likely that they will face the economic hardships which most child brides endure. I also doubt that this talk will be translated and distributed to the international church. My experience as a missionary in Venezuela suggests they receive little more than the conference issue of the Ensign and the Liahona. All that being said: I agree that children should not be eligible for temple sealing to spouse. I believe it would effectively discourage the practice among Latter Day Saints. I’ve read that young brides are far more likely to divorce, and I believe that is worth avoiding.

  116. Yes, Paul. It is a post about the possible and/or likely unintended and potentially devastating consequences of encouraging early marriage in US middle class context for church members (and society in general) in parts of the world where child brides and underage marriage are endemic problems.

  117. Thank you, Rosalynde, for #110. It helps round out what I see as the overall discussion: how does the counsel from the American base of a global church impact members worldwide? On the one hand, our leaders need to be very careful and self-aware of their own American bias and conditioning when they speak. At the same time, some in their outrage (and I don’t mean mmiles, who I largely agree with in this post) forget how “new and transformative” many of the Church’s teachings are to those not accustomed to the comforts of Western life.

  118. Rosalynde,
    #110 Agreed. And a needed perspective.

  119. The following is probably why some of our leaders advocate for early marriage:

    While some may not like UT’s Mark Regnerus due to his controversial study on same-sex parents, he nonetheless has done plenty of research on premarital sex (including a book on the subject published through Oxford). However, it is worth noting that his work is mainly based on American data.

  120. Wow! Amazing post. I am ashamed to say I never looked at the Mormon early marriage problem from this angle before. Great wake-up call about how very Ameri-centric I get.

    I’ve long thought that if the church could approach the idea of family values from a practical standpoint and acknowledge that statistically speaking the strongest marriages happen when all parties are 23+ and the more education the better. That’s just the facts.

  121. I actually don’t think our leaders advocate anything based on data.

  122. Peter LLC says:

    “I actually don’t think our leaders advocate anything based on data.”

    I suspect they are in good company.

  123. This post is problematic, as others have pointed out. However, I appreciate that Mormon feminist issues are being looked at in a global light, which almost never happens.

    I have a degree in global health and agree that child marriage is a big problem around the world, both for its economic and its health risks (DV, maternal mortality, etc.). But I’ve also lived and worked in south India where I was an active participant in an urban branch. Urban India (where the Church is) is a different story than rural India, so that’s one thing to keep in mind. But in my experience active LDS women in India, a few of whom have even been on missions, married later and had more choice in their marriages than they would have had otherwise. Elder Oaks came to India fairly recently (2008-ish?) and spoke against dowries and arranged marriages, and in my experience the members, especially younger members, did internalize his counsel.

    Bottom line: I am far from convinced that the Church is aggravating the problem of child marriage in developing countries.

  124. Why do you assume that the same pressures and attitudes you mention, in a minority of the US church are applied globally? I served my mission in India, and there were little of the influence of the sort you describe. To the degree we were worrying about cultural issues, it was things like arranged vs. love marriages, getting the guys to go on missions, explaining to the YSA what dating was (“you have to get to know someone before you decide to marry them”), explaining to the men that they needed to respect their wives. Generally in what would be considered a “liberal” direction.

  125. From #115: “My experience as a missionary in Venezuela suggests they receive little more than the conference issue of the Ensign and the Liahona.”

    Perhaps not, but I’m guessing they receive a great deal from missionaries, who in turn receive it from “some talk they heard an apostle or somebody like that give at BYU”.

  126. Anna K and Sam,
    Thanks for your comments. I know arranged marriage in the church has been a problem in India(just because it’s a problem in India–not the church). I am not assuming the church is making things worse. As has been pointed out, it has potential to, and in fact does, make big changes for the better. However it still stands that some words can be taken in a much different light in cultures that already face big hurdles.

  127. Rachel E O says:

    I have to second those above (e.g. Naismith #102) who have noted that church leaders need to be able to address different audiences. This was a BYU devotional, and pragmatists that they are, I don’t doubt that church leaders are very aware of the delayed marriage ages of BYU students and young American Mormons in general, and the associated increased inactivity among young LDS, which, from an institutional perspective at least, is not good for the health of the Church. (I would also submit that on balance delayed marriage is not good for the members of the Church, either, but that has already been hashed out above.) But as Rosalynde’s post above (#110) points out, the message that the Church imparts in developing countries is a different message — one that is very empowering and helps women especially overcome poverty and other dire circumstances.

    Personally, I find it a bit disingenuous when well-meaning liberal church members try to cry “developing world” whenever they take issue with something that a church leader says. Honestly, what do we know about the developing world? Even those of us who have studied international affairs and international development; what do we really know? This is about our own cultural battlegrounds; let’s not make it into some idealized crusade on behalf of the poor benighted saints of Africa. Reminds me of a research paper I wrote in college about the Instrumentalization of the Church in China… the way Protestant Christians in America and Britain used their differing depictions of the growth of Christianity in China in the 1970s and 1980s as a way to propagate their own conservative-to-liberal perspectives on doctrinal questions. They didn’t really know much at all about the lived experiences of Christians in China; their pamphlets and newsletters on the subject were mostly just projections of their own internal sociotheological debates.

    Anyway, I find some of the comments above that redirect the attention back to concerns about the impact of such a message on female BYU students who might not finish their education, etc. (#78 hawkgrrrl, #98 rah) a bit more to the point — though I generally think those concerns put the cart before the horse. Church leaders need to send two messages, especially to young women: (1) don’t delay marriage, and (2) FINISH YOUR EDUCATION. And I think Sister Dalton and the Young Women leadership do a fine job with both of those. I always remember Sister Dalton’s messages growing up when she was on the Young Women board and then a counselor in the YW presidency as being very empowering to me as a YW — including encouraging me to seek an education and be a leader among my peers.

    Lest we forget (I’m resisting using all-caps here), education and marriage are not by definition mutually exclusive(!). I understand that, statistically, getting married decreases the likelihood of women finishing their educations; anecdotally, it happened to both my mother and mother-in-law (though both finished their bachelor’s degrees and got master’s to boot once their kids were mostly grown). But it also doesn’t have to be that way. My husband and I both married before graduating from college, and we went to two different schools states apart. But we both still graduated on time or early. And now we are both about to start PhD programs simultaneously. And I have a lot of LDS friends who have done similar things.

    I’m not saying this is easy to do, or the norm. But why can’t we make it so? Rather than discouraging women (or men) from getting married (including in their early 20s, before they’ve graduated college), we should be changing the culture of dropping out upon marriage. We should keep up the expectation that married women finish their college degrees (and then get as much education as possible beyond that too!). We should make it easier for them to do so. We should continually stress the importance of education AND marriage. And that is precisely what Sister Dalton has always done.

  128. Rachel E O says:

    Mmiles (#121), you seriously don’t think our church leaders advocate anything based on data? You may have meant that tongue-in-cheek, so I apologize for not catching the irony if you were…

    But from what I have heard from people “in the know” (I know, I know, pardon me while I gag on my Cheerios… :-/ ) is that the church leadership is very, very data-oriented. That they have reams of data–qualitative and quantitative–coming in from all around the global church. And that this, in fact, was no small contributor to the decision to lift the priesthood ban, because the data coming in from Brazil was just too overwhelming too ignore any longer. And, as Elder Marlin Jensen indicated in a talk in one of Phil Barlow’s classes at Utah State a couple years ago, that the ‘brethren’ are also very keenly aware of the data about the unprecedented mass exodus in young people from the Church that is going on at present — apostasy on a scale not seen since the Kirkland days, I think he said.

    Now, you may not agree or like the ways that they interpret and respond to that data in this case. But I think the emphasis on not delaying marriage that we have seen repeatedly in recent years is VERY MUCH a response to cold, hard, and, from the church’s perspective, terrifying data.

  129. “I can only think it is deliberate.”

    RJH, I respect you greatly – far more than I’ve ever expressed to you, but my concerns about the post are not “deliberate” in the sense implied in your charge.

    As I have said, I agree with the main thesis in this post and think it’s an important thesis, but I simply don’t see the Church- and President Dalton-related analysis as a legitimate way to frame the issue. I will focus exclusively on two points:

    1) I don’t like mandating a minimum temple marriage rate worldwide, no exceptions. I am opposed to most 18-year-olds being married in first-world countries in most situations, but I’m just not willing to mandate that age universally.

    2) I believe the lowering of the minimum mission age for women is a huge move to encourage, in a practical and not just theoretical way, Mormon young women to marry later than they have in the past. A mission now is the first goal after high school, not marriage – and I can’t see President Dalton’s talk as coming anywhere close to countering the impact of the new mission age minimum.

  130. #129 Ray: I agree with you — especially #2 as Sister Dalton FIRST addressed the reduced age for missionary service and praised its impact among young men and young women.

  131. it's a series of tubes says:

    Numerous posts in this thread deserve a like button, but I’d really like to click one for #129.

    Also, #108 Brad – why “sigh”? Posts in this thread have been deleted – that’s a fact. Though I can’t recall their content perfectly as they are not longer visible, I don’t recall anything vile in them that would merit deletion. At least one emphasized the embarrasing misreading of statistics that was present in the original post.

  132. It’s a series of tubes–
    You are referring to #19, which was never deleted. It’s still there. There was only one comment moderated.

  133. Yes, some comments are missing. And many, many others still stand. You don’t have any idea why they’re missing, but to suggest that it has something to do with intolerance for dissent is incredibly sigh-worthy.

  134. Not only that, but mmiles modified the OP to reflect the critique of the stats analysis in the comment in question.

  135. It was my comment that was moderated, and it needed to be moderated. It was typed during high frustration, after Cynthia told me to stop, and it didn’t need to be the novel it was.

  136. #110 rosalynde – a beautiful story and one I wish we would here more and more of within the church. I know we are hearing these with higher frequency and I am grateful for it. One of the things that makes me proudest about the church is that we are pretty effective as helping families in developing countries be social-economically mobile. That is a wonderful, godly thing!

    Also, no offense taken. I will say that I admit I am tired of hearing “scrupulously follow prophetic council” closely followed by “young women here is specific counsel to you – get married and don’t delay defend traditional (read 1950s) family life”. Fair enough she didn’t say “scrupulously following prophetic counsel for young women means equals getting married as soon as possible and stay home and have kids” but you keep putting those two things side by side long enough (in what ever obliquely form) and I don’t think it is unfair to read into that is what is meant. And yes I think that IS what Sister Dalton meant to tell young women in that room because she really believes that is what most of them should do. I would also be willing to wager that a reasonably neutral question about whether that is what she meant posed to a random sample of women in the audience would yield a very high agreement. However, it is fair to point out that I am likely to be biased to hear that connection and maybe I am wrong about what the audience on average intuited from the talk. I also acknowledge that is perfectly reasonable to believe those two parts of the talk were meant to be disconnected and thus I mischaracterized in that respect.

  137. “High frustration” (#135) – that’s how the whole post makes me feel. Why is anybody still surprised/shocked/dismayed when they hear things from SLC that sound like they were channeled in from the 14th century? – or when so many still leap to defend?

    “There is a mutation taking place in the function of the machine, which is leaving all those who are still bent on criticising the old mechanism miles behind. To be a little ahead means realising that this has as its consequences the complete reversal of all the classical objections raised to the use of purely mechanistic categories.”
    Lacan, Jacques and Sylvana Tomaselli (Translator). Seminar II. 1954-55

  138. Stargazer says:

    I’m not certain whether I think that President Dalton was referring to “young marriage” or “young discipleship.” However if you are doing more articles in this series, please also refer to the damage to young bodies in early-teen pregnancy. It really is imperative that we move the age older (from 14 or 15) of young women gestating–it has a strong effect on their entire health. It is a major problem worldwide. 18 is still young but is a much better age physiologically.

  139. John Mansfield says:

    In the New Era publication directed at youth of the Church there has been a steady message in recent years, much more than in past decades, that dating among youth should be casual, with many different partners, in groups, not serious. You may recall Elder Oaks clarifying for post-mission men that that counsel no longer applied to them. This month’s New Era quotes Elder Packer, for at least the third time this decade that I know of, “We are convinced that dating should not even begin until you are 16. And then, ideal dating is on a group basis. Stay in group activities; don’t pair off. Avoid steady dating. Steady dating is courtship, and surely the beginning of courtship ought to be delayed until you have emerged from your teens.” That quote originates in a 1965 talk.

    President Hinckley also said in conference, “When you are young, do not get involved in steady dating. When you reach an age where you think of marriage, then is the time to become so involved. But you boys who are in high school don’t need this, and neither do the girls.” That quote was repeated in the New Era a couple springs ago.

  140. Those are very salutary quotes, JM. Thanks for providing them.

  141. Rachel E O says:

    Sigh. A correction to my comment above (128): *Kirtland. Not Kirkland. The Costco generic brand combined with the name of a residential house at my undergrad college have forever ruined my ability to distinguish between the two on the fly.

  142. #145, Rachel, Dudley House all the way.

    /back to the discussion

  143. A Nonny Mouse says:

    In rides JM with key quotes that seem to accurately portray the official position of the Church, and which cut directly against the OP. Thereafter – mostly crickets. Seems like the Apostle that so many love to hate has been promoting the “progressive” position for at least 47 years.

  144. Straight Talker says:

    Seems like someone has an axe to grind with the human condition in general. Late marriage has some major pitfalls not mentioned. For both men and women best time to reproduce is our late teens through our twenties. Far fewer birth and developmental defects with kids born within that window vs. kids born to older parents. Although freezing sperm and ovarian tissue when we’re young for safer late reproduction is an option, it’s too costly for most to consider. If you want a big family, marrying young sure helps. And for many sex is much more intense, pleasurable and certainly more frequent when you’re young, and good sex sure helps a marriage thrive. For many reasons, finding your soul mate and getting hitched young is definitely a blessing. It certainly worked well for us. And for the record, I’m hardly Joe Mormon. I have little use for the LofC as presently promulgated by our church.

  145. Calm yourself, ANM. I quickly commended John for furnishing the quotes, and I think they’re an important part of the conversation, but they hardly obviate the main argument of the OP, which is that our rhetoric about not waiting to marry (especially when directed at young women and especially when accompanying rhetoric that equates virtue with virginity) can have unintended and possibly devastating consequences for women in the church in the developing world.

  146. Straight Talker,
    A key point of the entire conversation is that the word “young” in the phrase “marrying young” means sometimes vastly different things in different cultures (to say nothing about the wisdom, in terms of child survival and child poverty in developed vs developing countries).

  147. Straight Talker says:

    Valid point. But among other things, the post ridicules the supposed rationale for a particular 17-20 USA LDS couple getting hitched. While the supposed rationale cited is indeed silly and problematic, the ages of the couple seem to bother the author immensely. Given human biology, I’m not bothered in the least. And I’ll add that for some, love only comes once and they who hesitate lose. Again, I think someone has an axe to grind w/ the human condition in general.

  148. “Seems like someone has an axe to grind with the human condition in general.”

    Sweeping judgments much??

  149. Straight Talker,
    It’s erroneous to suggest the best biological age to bear children is late teens. It’s simply inaccurate.

  150. Straight Talker says:

    Thanks. OK, I read that (was a bit ambiguous citing 20-35 as best but then saying it’s unwise to wait until 30, meaning 20-29 is best. And I was surprised it didn’t mention the costly option of freezing reproductive tissues for safer reproduction later in life). But oh come on! You can’t be seriously arguing a woman having a child at 20 is making a wise choice, but if she’s 19, she’s reckless and endangering her and her child’s health. That’s just silly.

  151. No, it’s about aggregate statistical patterns and correlations with other macro-level patterns and outcomes like poverty and malnutrition. It is not about any particular person or couple or single choice about what age to get married (see my first comment in this thread for my own counter-anecdote).

  152. DisgruntledActiveSingleMormon says:

    Even if it was not directly mentioned in the BYU Devotional it still is an issue that plagues the Church. Great article and something I believe needs to be addressed, especially in the BYU/Utah culture. It should be said that it is not Church policy to encourage early marriage and that what is important is that it be with the right person at the right time and the right place….oh wait! That is what has been said…nothing has directly been said with regards to the right age and should not be said.

  153. Rachel E O

    1. Honestly, what do we know about the developing world? Even those of us who have studied international affairs and international development; what do we really know?

    Some of us have lived there for extended periods of time, so we do know, at least a little bit.

    2. I have to second those above (e.g. Naismith #102) who have noted that church leaders need to be able to address different audiences…. But I think the emphasis on not delaying marriage that we have seen repeatedly in recent years is VERY MUCH a response to cold, hard, and, from the church’s perspective, terrifying data.

    I can buy that. However when it comes to marriage, how should the church handle the tension between the dangerously low birth rate in some places and crushing poverty in others? (This was pointed out in #105) Should they tell some to marry young and some not to marry until they are established? Then what would be the reasons given when addressing church membership?

    3. But as Rosalynde’s post above (#110) points out, the message is different…

    Surely some topics are addressed differently (discussing arranged marriage, for instance). However I’m not sure what you mean by the message is different. Which message?

    4. Church leaders need to send two messages, especially to young women: (1) don’t delay marriage, and (2) FINISH YOUR EDUCATION.

    While I agree church leaders tend to encourage education, something is amiss when you look at the numbers.

    5. Lest we forget (I’m resisting using all-caps here), education and marriage are not by definition mutually exclusive(!). I understand that, statistically, getting married decreases the likelihood of women finishing their educations; anecdotally, it happened to both my mother and mother-in-law (though both finished their bachelor’s degrees and got master’s to boot once their kids were mostly grown). But it also doesn’t have to be that way. My husband and I both married before graduating from college, and we went to two different schools states apart. But we both still graduated on time or early. And now we are both about to start PhD programs simultaneously. And I have a lot of LDS friends who have done similar things. I’m not saying this is easy to do, or the norm. But why can’t we make it so?

    That’s great! However as you admit, this isn’t the norm. I would love to make it so. But as you mention earlier, the church encourages early marriage as a means to more children. In fact, I’m skeptical there is a theological argument from a Mormon perspective for earlier marriage rather than later for any other reason. The only other reason would be for sexual fulfillment, which I am very hesitant to endorse as a reason for earlier marriage based on my own understanding of the gospel. Finishing education (especially graduate education) is very difficult with children. And since this post is about the developing world, I’ll mention here having children and going to school is very, very difficult in countries where women have fewer opportunities. In many countries married women simply don’t go to school-it’s a cultural thing.

    6. The Church is data oriented for planning and demographics and all sorts of things. But I am skeptical they would claim core basic teachings are predicated upon data analysis. It is based on revelation.

  154. John Mansfield,

    I agree that church has been steadily against early dating. But they have also always been for early marriage (note I did not say underage marriage—though it appears that isn’t necessarily condemned either).

  155. Rosalynde,

    Here is a great essay by an MIT economist that explains why economic development is not enough.

    And again, thank you for contributing in a very meaningful way to this discussion.

  156. Thanks all who have contributed meaningfully to this discussion. I need to clarify a few things that I didn’t do so well explaining in the OP.

    My thesis: Words of church leaders transmitted to the developing world against the backdrop of cultural values in some places can too easily be interpreted in a damaging way, and in fact may reinforce cultural problems endemic in those societies that are damaging to women.

    This is how I hear Elaine Dalton’s talk:

    Thesis: You women will be examples to the rest of the world attacking the family.

    Main points:
    1. Virtue=sexual purity, without which you can’t have the Holy Ghost
    2. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are too young to marry
    3. Know your roles (as women) and you won’t need to lobby for rights

    Money quote: “Young women, you will be the ones who will provide the example of virtuous womanhood and motherhood. You will continue to be virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy and of good report. You will also be the ones to provide an example of family life in a time when families are under attack, being redefined and disintegrating. You will understand your roles and your responsibilities and thus will see no need to lobby for rights.”

    It is hard to argue that these points are not related when they are coupled together in the same talk and all support her thesis. (see comment #56)

    One point that needs reinforcing, I do not think Elaine Dalton or other church leaders advocate or condone child marriage. I made a poor decision in mixing U.S. examples with the point of this post and regret that. It has been pointed out repeatedly that the Utah examples of early marriage are an anomaly (I agree). It has also been claimed people won’t take this talk wrong. However I think the Utah examples of girls marrying at 17 to keep their virtue shows how principles, even in Utah, can be taken wrong. Now take those same principles of marrying young after strong words about chastity and throw them into a culture where a girl’s entire worth is tied to her virginity and you have a problem. Even if this particular talk does not directly affect members in faraway countries, the way these principles are taught do.

    Thank you to all those have done what I neglected to do, point out church teachings that improve the status of women. I could add to the list a million other things that lift members (for example the Word of Wisdom) and improve lives.

    My reading of an article was completely amiss. Utah does not have overall high poverty rates despite the lowest average marriage age in the union. This bucks not just U.S., but global trends. It would be interesting to see why this is-someone do a study. Despite my glaring error, the reality that lower marriage age correlates directly with poverty worldwide still stands.

    It would be interesting to do some studies to see if, in fact, church teachings toward early marriage and high fertility (or opposite teachings—as some people in this thread have claimed) can be correlated with socioeconomic outcomes among members of the church in the developing world. The answers to questions like these would be good indicators:

    1. Do members of the church in developing countries marry later than their counterparts?
    2. How does their fertility rate compare?
    3. Education level?
    4. Are they economically better off as a result of church membership? (Please note here that I am not suggesting this is a reason to join or not to join the church)

    A few people have been quite insistent that banning temple marriage for anyone under 18 is a bad idea. I’m really curious about this and would love to know the reasons.

    Lastly, I leave you this. And this.

%d bloggers like this: