Sunday, November 23, 2014

How Many Youth are We Losing?

I have heard for some time reports about the Church losing young people in droves. None of these reports have any sort of statistics attached to them. What percentage of the young people is a drove? There is actually a literature on this subject. The National Survey of Youth and Religion actually has statistical data on the subject. (This data was discussed in the Mormon Studies Review before it took its change in direction.)

Here are the statistics from the National Survey of Youth and Religion on retention for various types of religion in the United States (From Christian Smith, et al., Soul Searching, 36; and Christian Smith, et al,, Souls in Transition, 109, 304). These numbers are basically the percentage of the youth whose parents are a religion that have their parent's religion in high school. The second number seems to be those who were a particular religion in high school that are still that religion in their college years. The third number is a multiplication of those two percentages that should give the number of young adults who were raised in that religion that are still that religion in college years. The fourth number is the number of those belonging to a particular religion that are in the devoted category in their college years. The fifth number is those in their college years that are either  attenders or devoted. The first, second and fourth numbers are from the NYSR and the third and fifth numbers are calculated from NYSR data.

                                          HS       college     total     devoted     + regular
Latter-day Saint                86%     72%         62%     56%           71%
Conservative Protestant    86        64             55        15              34
Roman Catholic                83        66             53        2                21
Jewish                               75        61             46        7                11
Black Protestant                81        55             43        6                19
Non-Religious                   63        68            43         0                1
Other Religion                   57        72            41         15              25
Mainline Protestant           68         50            34        7                 25
Indeterminate                    45         10            5          5                 21

The bad news is that Latter-day Saints lose one of seven of their youth in high school and about twice as many in college. So all told, we lose just over one third of the youth by the time they are through with college. Almost half of those who are left are potentially in trouble.

The good news is that of those that stay, over half are in the devoted category and almost three quarters are regular attenders. We have almost four times as many devoted young adults as the next closest religious category, and over twice as many regular attenders. We keep more of our young people than any other religion. Fewer of our college age youth are vulnerable than those in other religions.

One of the interesting things is that the NSYR defines the devoted category as those who are consistently engaged in the only behaviors that the NSYR has found to be statistically significant to retaining faith. The regular category is those who are engaged in those behaviors, but not as consistently.

The behaviors that the NSYR found statistically significant for retention of faith are (1) regular prayer (defined as at least a few times a week), (2) weekly church attendance, and (3) regular scripture reading (defined as at least once a month(!)). The NSYR also found a link between keeping the law of chastity and retaining faith.

Any assessment of how the Church is doing on retaining our young people needs to acknowledge the fact that we have been doing some things right; perhaps many things. It is not a matter of things not working--they clearly are; our retention statistics are the envy of all the other religions--but of things not working as well as they might.