Religious conversion as an anti-poverty strategy

Adam writes to me:

Hypothetical for you: would a massive conversion of low-income people to Mormonism reduce poverty? Utah looks to have some good demographics, which must be somewhat due to to the fact that 60% belong to the LDS church:

They have the lowest child poverty rate in the country, the highest birth rate but the lowest out-of-wedlock birthrate.

Is Mormon conversion a viable development policy?

A viable *policy*, no, but a viable solution *yes*.  Many of the costs of poverty are sociological rather than narrowly economic per se.  In other words, many of the poor do not have what could be called Mormon lifestyles.  This point holds all the more strongly in Latin America, where alcoholism is arguably a larger economic problem than in the United States.  It is not uncommon for a rural village to have a male alcoholism rate of up to fifty percent.

A political conservative is more likely to make this point than to simply focus on the lack of money earned by the poor.  A political liberal is more likely to assume that the rate of strict religiosity can rise only so high, and take that as a background constraint.  Furthermore, under the exogenous thought experiment of many more poor people converting to Mormonism, positive selection bias diminishes and perhaps the religion as a whole becomes less strict.

The truth of the Mormonism insight doesn’t necessarily have strong implications for cash-based social aid policies in the meantime.  Mormonism, as a variable, is difficult for political agents to manipulate, although they (possibly) can squash it.  Raising this point, however, makes the poor look less like victims and more like a group partially complicit in their own fate.  That framing does have “marketing” implications for the politics of how many resources the poor will receive.  For this reason, liberals sometimes underrate the conservative point, because they do not like its political implications, and this leads liberals to misunderstand poverty.  The conservatives end up misunderstanding poverty policy.  Almost everyone ends up a little screwy and off-base on this issue, victims of the fallacy of mood affiliation.

Here is an article about the poorest community in the United States, in terms of measured income, it is mostly Hasidic Jews (1/20).  It doesn’t have most of the problems which we usually associate with poor communities.


If you're looking for a strict, conservative, community-focused, and clean lifestyle religious group with low-income and minority demographics, I'd suggest Jehovah's Witnesses. They've managed to thrive in Castro's Cuba, the slums of Nassau, immigrant neighborhoods in the USA, and other places toxic to Mormons. I think they'd be a far more interesting natural experiment regarding the effect of religious conversion on health, crime, poverty, longevity, etc.

Good point. Any links?

Jehovah's Witnesses has a poor reputation among the upper middle class because those respectably-dressed, polite, determined proselytizers who come to your door tend to be pretty low-brow. But, there are lots of naturally low-brow people in this world, and the ones who are active in the Jehovah's Witnesses tend to be respectably-dressed, polite, and determined, which traits are a lot better than the likely alternative traits among low-brow people.

I would be inclined to think that "Mormon" lifestyle inside an already affluent country would provide the best results. Many Islamic countries share some of the same qualities, but are very poor. Yet Middle Eastern Immigrants to the US fare pretty well.


you can't transplant culture.

They store food. So, in the robustness extrema they are better off.

Maybe you have it backwards.

Some religious communities support their more indigent members with in-kind services: education, family crisis support, temporary housing, early education, schools, scholarships, etc.

But, why should the public sector not mimic the social services offered by the religious sector.

In fact, they did, and the origin of many public social programs can be found in the religious social movement of the early 20th century.

In other words, when someone claims that a religious group is responsible for x, and they do not control for the social and financial support that the church provides in Addition to religion, they are not telling you anything. You could simply be measuring the financial and inkind support a group provides to its members.

And, even churches that do not give financial and other assistance to their members, some of those churches are VERY adept at using public social services to assist their members, much in the same way that a social worker would tap into other public programs a community offers. In other words, you don't need to provide the service if you are good at facilitating your members into getting the services offered by others.

Mormonism provides a 1950s style safety net for its members. For example, consider BYU's low tuition and wide spread of SAT scores, which are much larger than most other private colleges. BYU's implicit deal with Mormon parents is that we'll take your not-so-bright children but we also get your bright children, too.

But, if Mormonism has a hard time these days winning converts among people of northwest European backgrounds and instead has to recruit mostly among lower average IQ Pacific Islanders (granted, they are good for the BYU football team) and illegal aliens (note the Mormon Church's support for illegal immigration, which gets it rare good press in the NYT), can it maintain its traditional impressive demographics?

The "official" position of the LDS church is that it is neutral about the issues of illegal immigration. The practical conduct of the church seems fairly nuanced and quite well thought out. Much better than the "with-us-or-against-us" stands of a lot of other immigration zealots on either end of the spectrum.

PS. Is being Mormon mandatory to studying at BYU?

"The practical conduct of the church seems fairly nuanced and quite well thought out."

In other words, the Mormon brass has figured out what's in their own personal self-interest when it comes illegal immigration, and discourages frank, well-informed discussion of the topic by those who don't share their self-interests. In this regard, the Mormon leadership is like most elite interest groups in the U.S., which is why they've been getting "strange new respect" lately from the Carlos Slim-financed New York Times.

It just means that there are no easy answers about the issue. Sometimes no-policy is better than bad-policy.
Primum non nocere.

When it comes to illegal immigration, no policy is a policy, one with far-reaching consequences.

The actual policy of the LDS Church seems to be to make encouraging noises about immigration (that earn it good press from the New York Times) while actually doing very little to restrain its very conservative, pro-restriction US membership.

The Mormon church is much less politically involved than most outsiders assume.

Rahul, LDS membership is not required to study at BYU. However the lifestyle is so completely Mormon [by this I mean the honor code which requires all to behave according to Mormon mores and the religious classes] that, in my opinion, is why non-Mormons choose not to attend unless they otherwise have a particularly strong reason to do so (e.g. scholarship athletes athletes). According to wiki the stat is about 98% Mormon.

Yes--non-Mormons can study at BYU, although I think the tuition is slightly different.

BYU's admission standards keep increasing as more folks apply. This worries Church leadership, who have been trying to expand other options, with mixed success so far. The truth is that Mormons do a better job retaining their average and above average youth than the below average ones.

Mormonism is the most notable system going for how middle class white people can reproduce at above the replacement rate of 2.1 babies per woman. A large private safety net is a crucial aspect of their demographic success.

The ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Kyras Joel that Tyler cites at the bottom of his post is another example, as are the very wealthy Syrian Jews of Brooklyn. On the other hand, these very fertile Jewish ultra communities seem to be less compatible with education and broad pro-sociality than Mormons. If Kyras Joel grew to make up 60% of the population of the state of New York, it's hard to see New York functioning as well as 60% Mormon Utah functions.

It's also worth noting that high fertility white people tend to vote much more Republican than low fertility white people. Some of this is self-selection, some of it is that the GOP being the "family values" party is more appealing when you can afford to have a family.

The long term survival of the GOP would seem to be tied up in the GOP using its legislative power to make marriage and children more affordable for its supporters, but nobody in the GOP braintrust seems to have ever noticed the concept.

Just reading the New York Times article that Tyler links to about the Hasidic community 50 miles from NYC, it's pretty clear that the reporter believes Kyras Joel is the poorest city in the country per capita only in terms of income reported to the IRS. I suspect you wouldn't find as big a gap between reported and actual income in, say, Provo.

variation on Bill's point. the LDS church is well-known for "taking care of its own". that includes food, clothing, medical care, and employment -- pretty much the whole bundle. those who convert might be lifted out of poverty just by material transfers from church to members. i wish i knew enough about the finances of the church to evaluate whether it could support mass conversions, or if these very generous policies would change.

And of course if you want to use the government to provide that same kind of support society-wide, rather than conditional on membership in a particular church, then you're a filthy socialist.

Membership in a church is voluntary.

The voluntary aspect is shaky when the context is cults, indoctrination, ostracization and strong peer pressure etc. Have you spoken to a Mormon that stopped practicing after growing up?

Most certainly. I'm a young adult who was raised Mormon but no longer practices. I still maintain good relations with my family and all of my friends who are highly active in the church. Granted, I've spent a lot of time with highly intellectual Mormons so my experience might not be typical, but I know numerous adults who have left the LDS church without being ostracized.

I know many. None went to prison because of it.

Well yes. Because the church doesn't force you to contribute anything, you can always walk away without going to jail.

They also discriminate based on your behavior, and the changes in that behavior you undertake. I would like to see any Mormon, or recent convert, get aid from the church for very long while shooting heroin all day long, or not showing up ready and able to work.

However, this suggests, too, that such conversions, unless they were truly authentic moves to change poor previous behavior, would fail anyway.

Lastly, it isn't socialism to reach a helping hand to your fellow man- only if you force someone else to reach out his hand. There is a difference, believe it or not.

OTOH, reaching out to _only_ your kin might be called nepotism at the extreme. That is a dangerous slope.

Lastly, it isn’t socialism to reach a helping hand to your fellow man- only if you force someone else to reach out his hand. There is a difference, believe it or not.

Yes -- the God-given (?) right to free-ride.

Exactly right, Yancey. I have been close to the support mechanism in several wards. Financial support only accompanies a credible plan toward self-reliance. The support generally disappears absent good-faith efforts at repentance, where repentance means compliance with commandments that define Mormon lifestyle. In the United States support is almost all a local redistribution. Support is always administered locally, a bishop judging the needs and reconciling them with available resources.

The Mormon Church has traditionally been a private welfare state for middle class people of northwestern European background. It has succeeded, just like public welfare states in northwestern Europe have mostly succeeded.

The Church Elders now seem to see the Church's future in Third Worlders, who haven't worked out terribly well in the public welfare states of northwestern Europe. Time will tell.

When the farmers ran out of land they migrated to the new world. When the proselytizers run out of raw-material they move to the third world.

And we'll see how it works out for them.

The difference is that the Mormon welfare system is only available to third worlders who can hack being Mormon. That requires a fair amount of thrift, sobriety, and other character elements in it.

Though a faithful Mormon myself, I would not be surprised if Mormon leadership has a fair amount of naivete about differences in human material, but private religious welfare systems operated by and for members of the religion are not direclty analagous to public welfare systems operated by members of the state. I know from experience that the Mormon church is *very* willing to cut off welfare aid for someone who they think is shirking or taking advantage.

One thing your analysis needs to account for is that the Mormon church has had a significant Polynesian and American Indian presence for over 150 years, and a significant Mexican contingent for over 100 years. The racial and cultural differences that you are attuned to are not as new as you think.

Right, and Mormonism seems to have hit a ceiling in, say, Tonga. You used to read that Tonga would be the world's first majority Mormon country, but that doesn't look likely to happen now. (Around 2002, there was a pretty good Mormon movie about a Mormon missionary in Tonga, The Other Side of Paradise, with Anne Hathaway as his girlfriend back home in Utah.)

Hitting a ceiling has little to do with whether Mormon welfare systems can survive being introduced to populations with low performance metrics. To the extent polynesians, American Indians, and Mexicans are such populations, Mormonism had done fine with them for decades and decades. There are significant differences between a privately-administered religious welfare system that does not borrow funds and a public system that does.

There is also a selection effect that your HBD analysis is ignoring. Mormon converts in the Third World who stay active are likely not a representative cross-section of the population.

Steve S.,
ideologically Mormons are always about 20 years behind the times. In 2030, when your stuff is the fading conventional wisdom, we'll be ready to eat it up.

Of course, what will the demographics of Utah be by 2030?

Utah was the most Republican state in the Union in 2000 and 2004. Will it still be a Republican state in the middle of this century if the Mormon Elders have their way on immigration policy?

*I don't think those sorts of things are measured in the child poverty statistics.
*FYI, the Church doesn't provide medical care. What can happen is that if someone is having trouble paying their medical bills, their local church might cover their rent and utilities for a couple of months
*helping someone find a job is hardly a material transfer

Are people just mentioning my name at random here? Where did I say that the Church pays for medical care?

I can think of lots of people, poor or otherwise, I would like to see go on a two year mission far, far away.

Perhaps there is something about the club good that would diminish if more than 1% of the population nationally joined the club?

Utah is an exceptional place: beautiful, isolated, and very easy to leave should one not subscribe to the dominant culture. There are plenty of people that would be uncomfortable in Utah, but they don't visit very often.

There are plenty of people that would be uncomfortable in Utah, but they don’t visit very often.

Unless they're unlucky enough to be born there. Presumably 5-10% of Utahns discover at puberty that they are gay, like 5-10% of everyone else, but it's not so easy for them to leave until they reach the age of majority.


Yeah, 5-10% seems about right:

3.5% gay or bisexual is NOT 5-10% gay.

Why are you surprised? That sounds like the number I had heard for % of general population that is gay. Do you think it would be lower just because you're born a Mormon?

cum hoc ergo propter hoc

Or, is It instead :

Cum hoc ergo propter hoc

Or both!

Vini, Vidi, Vici.

Oy Vey!

I meant to say post hoc procter hoc, and not cum hoc ergo procter hoc.

Pardon my English.

There is a subtle difference in the fallacies.

Yes, there is a difference, and yes, it is subtle. Post hoc, requiring sequence, is a subset of cum hoc, which requires only correlation.

Don't you love having a forum where you can find conversations like this?

Better to consider the social costs of Mormonism as well. Anyone who has spent some time in Utah knows exactly what I'm talking about.

What is the difference between a "viable policy" and a "viable solution"? Can anyone help me understand?

Not all solutions can actually be enacted into policy, or even should be if you have some basic principles about liberty and self-determination.

Policy is forced, while a solution can be voluntary.

Thanks! This was another puzzler of a sentence:

>>>Mormonism, as a variable, is difficult for political agents to manipulate, although they (possibly) can squash it. <<<

I am sure I am being too literal, but isn't squashing a manipulation?

>>> Utah looks to have some good demographics, which must be somewhat due to to the fact that 60% belong to the LDS church<<<

Are we sure about the causality? Denmark also has some some good demographics but..............

It's my understanding from talking to friends of mine who are Mormon. That the retention rate among lower income and less educated church members is low, and that the LDS church is concerned that it is becoming a church just for the middle class and upper middle class. They say there's an effort to find out why they can't retain lower income members and reverse that trend.

This is a pretty funny example of how the conventional wisdom makes everybody stupider, even those conventionally considered politically incorrect, such as the Mormon braintrust. The poor saps in the Mormon leadership have drunk so deeply of the Kool-Aid of the Conventional Wisdom that they no longer understand their historic strengths: namely, if you start with a bunch of middle-class white people and prod them into acting like middle-class 1950s white people, while shedding the losers, you'll get pretty good results.

Steve: The crucial distinction is that getting good results is NOT morally equivalent to doing the right thing.

How do you know?

"What is the difference between a “viable policy” and a “viable solution”?..."

You hit the nail on the head Rahul. What difference does it make? "Viable" implies it has at least a snowball's chance in hell of working, and who would possibly believe any "policy" or "solution" based on the confines of a single religion, sect, or culture would have any practicality whatsoever in 21st century America?

Viable entertainment? Yes! Viable policy or solution? Not a chance!

"Anyone who has spent some time in Utah knows exactly what I’m talking about."
No kidding... FOR YEARS after we moved in people wouldn't stop bringing us fresh baked bread, zucchinis from their gardens, cookies, offering to help with yard work, offering to help with remodeling, etc. In fact they're still doing it... damn those pesky social "costs".

I do that for my neighbors in New York and I'm a former catholic.
Why are we discussing religious solutions for poverty?
Would this same conversation be comfortable if a group of wealthy people sat around discussing the middle class, bemoaning our demands for good schools, health care neighborhoods and clean air and deciding that evangelical christianity would take care of us??

Oops, isn't that what is happening now? Don't need to worry about the environment, neighborhoods etc because of the rapture. Get rid of the public school system with vouchers and anything else can be done by God.


Perhaps the anonymous poster was talking about the ostracism of outsiders, the intolerance of different lifestyles, the arrogance of having the only one truth, the relative poverty of opportunity for women outside of the home, the resulting embrace of mediocracy, and the conservatism which rejects large categories of change.

I'm guessing ce is not Mormon. Damn them for treating outsiders like that!

There's always the hope "ce" can be turned around to the bright side.

As an outsider living in Mormonland, my experiences differed from CE's. Everyone lives in a social circle that you're on the outside of. Very socially isolating. You get to know a lot of people that paid a tremendous cost to leave. Not that it's all bad. If you can buy into it, it's fantastic. But if you don't fit a particular mold, it's pretty miserable. There's a reason that Utah reports high levels of happiness and yet also has high numbers of suicides.

"As an outsider living in Mormonland, my experiences differed from CE’s. Everyone lives in a social circle that you’re on the outside of. Very socially isolating."
I can see that. As a Mormon living in the southeast I feel exactly the same way.

"the arrogance of having the only one truth"

Oh yeah, that is very unique to Mormons. Not something you see in any other religion or in your run-of-the-mill politician.

It may not be unique but is probably worse in the more extremist religions.

Of course. Problem is trying to call Mormons 'extreme'. The fact that 40% of Utah is non-Mormom should tell you something.

It also helps if you actually get to know the place and a few mormons before making up your mind of what they are about. I moved to Utah as a immigrant/non-member and I don't have one complaint. People are as nice as it gets and you see plenty of other Churches around. If you go to SLC you see a lot of people who definitely don't fit the mental model most people have of mormons.

I lived in Seattle before moving here and people seemed much more intolerant there - many of them were atheists btw. I know this is all anecdotal evidence but so is most of the crap other people say about mormons.

>>>The fact that 40% of Utah is non-Mormom should tell you something.<<<

Non sequitur. That neither supports nor weakens any assertion of extremism.

I used "extreme" in the sense "far from what is the median belief in society". Yes, I think Mormon ideologies fit the bill if you compute the average over all Americans.

Well, to me extremists are the ones who don't allow a different point of view to exists by means of violence. if you think having principles is extreme than yes, Mormons are extreme.

BTW, I wonder how one 'computes the average' of any ideology. Talkb about Non sequitur.

BTW, I wonder how one ‘computes the average’ of any ideology.

Ah, sure. You can do that with votes and politicians. How do you do that with religion?

Which btw brings an interesting question: How can you have Democrat Mormons and Republican Mormons?

Non sequitur indeed.

How many more men can Mormons take if more men want to be Mormons? And would more later day Mormons need more money per Mormon to be like today's Mormons?

"Utah looks to have some good demographics"


Per capita GDP in a state by state comparison puts Utah in #49:

Those look to be pretty terrible demographics to me. How much is the LDS to blame? The highest concentration of Mormons in the country, the highest bankruptcy rate (from the original link), the highest antidepressant use

Why do people just accept any nonsense just because there is a link?

Per capita data reflects the number of children. Utah is, by a significant factor, the youngest state in the nation.

Exactly. When you look at poverty aret Utah is 7th in the country

Thanks FYI. Again, where are the "good demographics" for Utah? By every measure of economic prosperity Utah has pretty terrible demograhics. Per capita income, poverty, bankruptcy, etc.


Did you click on the link? The list is order by least poor down. so Utah has the 7th lowest level of poverty in the country. That is pretty good.

Then the per-capita-antidepressant use in Utah is much worse than the statistics report.

Utah ranked 7th in all prescription use. This can be seen as a negative or can be seen as Utahns being concerned about their health and doing something about it. All depends upon how you look at it. There are lots of theories for why this is - a popular one is that due to Mormon health codes that Mormons are less likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol and thus turn to doctors for those sorts of problems. The other theory is that Utahns are highly educated and more likely to turn to doctors for health.

Bankruptcy rates vary by state legal environment. States with easy garnishment and creditor-friendly legal systems have higher bankruptcy rates:

This is a reflection of the greater reality that people who are judgment proof don't need to declare bankruptcy. One could argue that Utah's higher rates of bankruptcy shows that Mormons have managed to move a number of the poor from the unemployed and addicted category to the marginallly employed category, but whether this is true or not I don't know.

In general using Utah as a proxy for Mormons is a pretty crude method of analysis.

FYI, your antidepressants link has nothing to say about Utah antidepressants usage when compared to other states.

A veteran Silicon Valley venture capitalist told me in 1988 that the best entrepreneurs to invest in are non-Mormons who were raised in Mormon towns. They pick up the Mormon virtues but they don't have to tithe 10% of their income to the Mormon church, so they have more money to put into their own ventures.

Compare Utah to Nevada in mortgage default rates. Utah looks pretty good by that standard.

In general, comparing Utah to next-door Nevada is pretty informative.

I didn't post anything about anti-depressants. I only posted the poverty rank data. I think rate of use of anti-depressants has little to do with the issues being debated. It is like saying that Silicon Valley only exists because we have medicinal pot.

I replied to Benny Lava, not you.

I think if that Adam defines conversion as a change of mindset that alters behavior then I believe mass conversion would be a viable solution. Mormonism's tenets include abstaining from alcohol and drugs, fidelity in marriage and no sex outside of marriage, integrity in behavior, and a high focus on work education and work ethic. In addition, there is a large focus on charitable donation both individually and as an organization. It seems obvious that a large group of people altering their behavior in this manner would lead to less poverty. Both because of the individual behavioral changes as well as the transfer payments. However, if you are merely saying that people would become affiliated with the LDS church without any subsequent change in lifestyle then I don't see it much change other than the increased transfer payments to the extent that they would continue to be viable in the wake of a mass conversion.

So the question is whether Mormonism causes people who not otherwise engage in these sorts of behaviors to engage in these sorts of behaviors. The question is probably impossible to answer sociologically.

In the 80's I read a thesis written by a neo-Presbyterian that cited 'Mormons are good neighbors' as the most attractive feature of Mormonism, based on its own survey.

...based on an ongoing survey of its new members.

If one adopts Smith's organon that sees all moral sentiment enshrouded in sympathy, then fallacy would reside in the being with which one sympathizes, not in sympathizing as such. If we are good Humeans and Smithians, then we confess that mood and passions are always in our judgments.

The Mormons are a great window into America's past. Yes, Virginia, the entire country was once full of communities that had the kind of social capital and well, community, that the Mormons have. Thankfully, we have all been atomized and market segmented and made into transients. If everyone is an outsider, nobody is. Justice! Inclusiveness! Diversity!

The economic and social advantages attributed to Mormonism come at an side-effects cost that might be too high.

This is a good point. The things people dont' like about Mormons are the flip side of the things people do like about Mormons.

Now, the degree to which modern Mormons are intolerant, oppress women, etc., is very much exaggerated, but a good story could probably be told that to a great degree that is compelled because of the Mormon situation as a minority in an unsympathetic majority (Mormons are probably evidence of the conservative immigration assimilation case that intolerance and even mild hostility to outsiders--in this case, Mormons--makes the outsiders try harder to conform.)

No one on either side of the political spectrum wants to admit that familial dysfunction, harmful birth rates, crime, disorder might be inherent in an open, accepting, diverse society. Or that intolerance, discrimination, gay violence might be ineradicable elements in an orderly society with low crime and strong families with sustainable birth rates. But probably it just is that way. Maybe the best we can hope for is societal oscillation between one and the other, with some remnant of the virtues of the old swing surviving into the new swing, with perhaps some slow overall improvement happening underneath.

Well said.

Mormonism is a little bit like Finland: a welfare state that starts off with high human capital and keeps up pretty high entrance standards.

By the normal standards of political debate in America, Finland -- a prosperous, democratic anti-immigration welfare state -- can't possibly exist. Either it must be a Nazi dystopia or a dilapidated socialist Cuba. But once you leave behind the usual talking points of the American left and right, you can start to see that Finland not only exists, but that the reasons that its component parts, such as anti-immigrationism, high test scores, and strong social safety net go together so well are ... totally obvious.

Many of the costs and benefits attributed to Mormons do not hold constant the factor of: homogeneous rural population.

Both costs and benefits that are being attributed to Mormons are a function of this factor.

As far as good neighbors, the best I have ever had are in St. Louis. Everyone on the block coordinated to buy a different bottle of alcohol to stock my family's bar when we moved there. 1) Movers typically do not move liquor. 2) liquor is a prerequisite for entertaining in St. Louis -- in a way it says, "I am ready to come over when you invite us!"

Utah is not markedly rural. What it is is suburban

Wouldn't Utah, a large Mormon state, have to have an urban center for it to be considered sub-urban?

How many people live in Salt Lake? Granted the I-15 corridor (including Ogden) is much of the population of the state, but I don't think we are talking New England here.

Maybe we are using different definitions.

I can assure you that at least half the state qualifies. This is not unlike southeastern states (except the Atlanta area which I would call sub-urban by contrast to your claim about Utah). The biggest difference between Utah and places in South Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama is the homogeneity. We can even go so far as to talk the percentage of northern European-Scandinavian types in Utah (especially among those that have been here more than two generations). Should you go to towns that fit this demographic in the south east -- My hypothesis is that all the costs and benefits people attribute to the religion would disappear and become a demographic things.

Test it. I will wager that demography explains more than religion. If we can agree to terms, let us make a bet.

The population of the Salt Lake City MSA is well over a million. Over 80% of that population lives outside the incorporated city limits.

I think that fits anybody's meaning of "suburban."

My claim is that Utah is not markedly rural. I am willing to make a bet using the Census Bureau definition that more of the Utah population is urban and suburban than rural.

What about Mormons as entrepreneurs?

My only experience - had a Mormon silent partner - combined tech (computers) and pro sports (PGA Tour). My favorite memory is of the time my partner went un-silent long enough to help with an attempt to market a televised event to the early Family Channel, at a time when figure skating was considered risky.

Family Channel, of Pat Robertson fame. After 2 years of meetings and delays, his son waltzed into a meeting (20 minutes late) wearing clogs and pulled the plug on the whole idea. Seems he had other ideas - nascar.

Utah is self-selecting.

This happens in India (actually in much of South Asia) all the time. The local religious fundamentalists then target both the proselytizers as well as the new converts. Often, the new converts stand to lose government benefits if they convert. They end up practicing their new religion covertly. Some don't convert to avoid losing the benefits (such as affirmative action). So, government "policies" end up promoting social injustice and inequality.

One way that this affects policy views is with vouchers. Liberals look at education vouchers and complain that they'll mostly benefit only a subset of the poor, the strivers with better habits, and think that having them escape the poor schools will make those schools even worse. Conservatives look at that same fact and find it a feature, not a bug, since they think that it will encourage people among the poor to strive and do their best. Conservatives (and libertarians) are much more likely to make a distinction between the "deserving poor" and the undeserving. That's one reason why the EITC has such bipartisan support, as do other plans that require welfare recipients to work.

Could this be extrapolated to Islam and inner-city areas?

I tend to think that Mormon conversion does make a difference with habits of thrift, getting off drugs, etc., but I have to admit that the data might be partly explained by a selection effect. Folks who have a hard time getting off the drugs or developing bourgeious habits have a hard time hacking it as Mormons and will usually drift away.

What is also missing here is that Mormons have an excellent church welfare program.. They own some of the largest farms in the United States. Every month church members give a fast offering to feed poor and the afflicted. The assistance comes in two major forms checks to pay for rent and food. Mormons are excellent at teaching the poor to network to find jobs...

Didn't Garrett Jones show you could good results from people opting in, whereas if others are just stuck with you by default you're more likely to free-ride?

Tyler, the Mormon church operates its own Welfare program, so there's a big difference between being self-sufficient and not on the dole.

It seems irrefutable that people who give up alcohol, tobacco, illegal narcotics [saving money both on the front end the cost of the substances and on the back end avoiding the health costs as well as benefiting from a longer productive life]; who live together in stable marriages [thus avoiding the costs of maintaining two households as opposed to one with the efficiencies inherent in division of labor within the household] will in the long run save money and be able to accumulate capital for use on education or business etc. But from where does the motivation come to exercise self restraint in this way? Secular thinkers will invoke the concept of "delayed gratification" and bow at the altar of "intelligence" or "will power." Religious thinkers will employ the concept of "sacrifice" and salute the standard of "faith." The TBM's (true believing mormons) and the MINO's (mormons in name only) or non-Mormons will benefit exaclty the same to the extent that they behave in these ways. The state, however, simply cannot provide adequate incentives to such behavior. Freedom is the difference between Mormon "peer pressure" on the one hand, and the "end of a gun" on the other.

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