Friday, March 22, 2013

Ignoring 50% of the Population

This past week I visited an LDS Church bookstore in Maryland. (In Utah and the rest of the "Jello Belt" these stores are common. Not so much on the East Coast.) I looked through the rows of books for something to jump out at me. There were books on deep, philosophical life questions, lots of books on parenting and "strengthening marriages," and oh so many books on how tough it is to be a teenager. Not one book on or for singles. Not one.
I wasn't surprised. Singles in this church are often overlooked and ignored. When you do find books, or talks, geared towards singles they are almost always about dating and how to get married. I can't think of one exception to this rule.
This is ridiculous.
There is a strongly held idea/rumor/belief that 50% of the adults in the Mormon church are single. After this experience at the bookstore, I wanted to see if that number is real, and I wanted to compare it against the general population.
In my stake there are roughly 1,143 singles, out of 1,714 "households." (For my non-Mormon readers, a "stake" is a geographic group of congregations known as wards. Usually a stake has about 8-10 wards in it. And most wards have about 300-500 members (adults and children).)
Using only the public rosters found online,  I counted up the number of households in the stake, and the number of "heads of household" that only list one adult. In general, if there is only one adult listed, it means that person is single.  If there are two names, it means married (duh). However, this is not a failproof system. If someone is married to a non-Mormon the spouse may or may not be listed. And then there is the age issue. Let's put it this way, my grandmother (age 88) is listed as a head of household, but I wouldn't consider her single. (I don't think she's looking to date or meet other singles at her age.) last but not least, if someone isn't all that active in church, his/her record/roster may not have been updated recently.
Now, going back to the stake demographics. 1,143 out of 1,714 households are listed with only one adult. Just to make this number more realistic, let's knock off 10% for just being wrong or poorly updated records. (Why 10%? I looked at my personal congregation, and that is the number of incorrect records I could spot instantly.) That brings us to roughly 1,029 people. Now let's take off 20% for being over 60 years old. This is Roanoke, so that number is probably low. We have a LOT of old people here. That brings us to 829 people.  (If we used the number of "old" people in my own ward as a guide, we'd be knocking off more than 50%.) And then I'm all for knocking off 29 people for being married to a non-Mormon and not falling into one of the previous categories (most likely the ineptly updated records category). Leaving us with a clean number of 800. Which is roughly 47% of the adults in the Roanoke stake, are actually single.
Let's repeat that. 47% of the adults in the Roanoke stake are single.
This is in a town where most people would tell you (or at least, it's what they tell me) we don't have any singles, besides me, and one or two other people.

So what is the general population number? 58% of males over 18 are married, and 55% of females over 18 are married. 30% of males have never been married, and 23% of females have never been married.
In other words, there are slightly more unmarried Mormons than there are singles in the general population. (And yet, we are known for getting married young, and being a family church.)
None of this actually comes as a surprise to me. I've actually counted up the same demographics in other places I have lived. It's about the same everywhere you go- roughly 50% of Mormon adults are unmarried.
So why doesn't anyone see it that way? Why are singles considered the odd man out, or the ones that don't fit in? Why aren't singles seen as "equal" when planning activities, giving lessons, etc.? Why isn't there an entire section of the bookstore dedicated to singles, like there are for teenagers, married couples, Mormons who speak Spanish, missionaries, etc?
Because they are forgotten. Singles are more likely to become less active in the church than married people. They start getting overlooked in lessons and activities, and start to feel like the odd man out, and they stop going. Out of sight, out of mind. And suddenly, 50% of of the adults have disappeared.

My personal congregation (ward) has roughly 22 singles (including me) listed, out of 108 households. (Which confirms my theory that my "ward" is smaller than all of the other congregations in our stake, including 2 branches. My apologies to all the non-Mormons who did not just follow that. We really are a very small ward.) Approximately that's 1 out 5 adults are listed as single. But really, as I look at the list, I know probably 10 of the 21 other people on the list, and they are all over 60, if not 70. And no offense to the senior citizens, but I don't really count them as "singles." I had a feeling my congregation did not fit the typical demographic breakdown. No surprise there.  (And for those of you who are wondering how many people in that 21 I am related to, the answer is at least 5. I don't know the other names well enough to be sure if we are related or not.)
The Mormon Church has come a very long way in the past 20 years in incorporating singles and creating singles wards. But it is very obvious to me that there is still a very long way to go. The last time I counted up these kinds of numbers was about 10 years ago, and the demographics were the same- roughly 50% of adults in the church were single, but most people would have told you "we don't have any" singles because the singles were not active. I don't have a current statistic for how many singles go inactive. But I do know that when I counted 10 years ago the number was around 80%.
There are so many things that could be done to incorporate singles better, and stop inadvertently alienating them. For instance, books and talks for singles! And they don't have to be about dating!!! In Sunday lessons, give examples and scenarios that apply to singles, just as often as you give them about marriage and families. When planning ward activities, find a way to include singles, rather than making the activity all about children or couples. (Last month our ward activity was a couples Valentines dance, and this month it is a children's Easter egg hunt. Needless to say, I don't feel like I belong at either event.)
It wouldn't be that hard to incorporate and include the singles if people just stopped to remember them. I honestly believe that the majority of the problem is that the minute most people get married they intentionally avoid and ignore single people. Is it any surprise then that the singles feel like alienated outcasts? Instead of making singles charity cases, just stop alienating them. Include them from the beginning, instead of ignoring them. 

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  1. A Single Voice by Kristen McMain Oaks is a really good book for singles. It was published a few years ago. I know I really enjoyed her thoughts and insights.

  2. Anonymous9:44 AM

    some things of possible interest, by all means feel free to delete if not appropriate! I'm not promoting the sources or authors, But I am also in the hunt for clues, answers or whatever it is i'm looking for.

  3. Anonymous7:05 PM

    Singles have a lot of time to research and sometimes discover that religion just is too controversial and illogical. Their names may be on the records because they haven't bothered to have them removed. People who are married are often seeped in tradition.

  4. Your experiences seem to be in alignment with what many areas are like. We just lose a lot of singles. My stake has 530 mid-singles. How many come to our Family Home Evening? 12. The stake presidency was SHOCKED when they found out there were actually more mid-singles than YSA or singles over 45. From the research I've done (talking to people individually), many of them do still believe in the gospel and that the church is true but they feel left out or even ostracized. I have many friends who feel like its too painful to attend church and see people living the things they want so desperately. We are told we are so lucky we get to do what we want when we want. When we would trade it in a second for the marriage and kids. Men especially feel marginalized when they are unmarried. I'm not sure exactly why they feel that. I have also found that many of the singles are in relationships such that they would not consider themselves single, where they are living with someone or something like that. Even for many of those people in that situation, they still believe the church is true but they have made decisions in their life that keep them feeling they don't want to or can't attend church. I think one of the best things we can do is continue to reach out to those who are in those situations and try to accept them where they are at that time. Other than that, I really have no ideas left in me. :) I'd love any other ideas if people have them.

  5. If I may comment from a brothers perspective. I don't like going to church because it reminds me of what I want and don't have (no different than a sister). But the problem comes in with where or what to do with the single priesthood holders. There are only so many spots you can put one. I have recently been given the SA rep. So as a 42 year old never married, is that all I have to look forward to in the church? The answer is YES! or Door greater. Try finding a conference talk that deals with Single brethren only. The last dealt with single parents and emphasized the single moms (which is fine but...), with the "Now, there are, of course, some single families where it is the father who is the single parent. Brethren, we also pray for you and pay tribute to you. This message is also for you". Elder Baxter April, 2012. That's it! a blurb thrown in at the end! Single dads are the same as single moms? I'm thinking not. We are definitely shunned more by the church as a whole. In fact from the single sisters as well. "There must be something wrong with him" or "I don't want to go to SA with all these old (mid 40's old perverts) around". OK yes there are some of those too but anyways you see the point.
    I have relations that are 5 to 10 years apart. The biggest thing is the corralling of the age groups. In one city, mid singles is 30 - 45, another 2 hours away is 28 - 40. My ward has an active count of 12. from 34 to 93. From 34 -50 I have 4 active members. I attended a SLC (Davis county, Kaysville) SA Christmas party in Feb. 2012. Me and one other fellow were the YOUNGEST to attend.
    There is a conference next month 6 hours away (closest) one province (Canada)over. A friend of mine plans on going that is 7 1/2 hours away. Yet I have sister cousins that live there, and won't go.
    One district I was in had 4 stakes. My stake had close to 1000 singles on record. But could only muster 150 or so for the multi-stake conference, which encompassed 4 stakes altogether.
    I don't have any answers either. Sorry for the novel...good discussion so far though (before i got typing ;p ). Good topic Erin!


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