New Missionary Policy

October 6, 2012 | 53 comments
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“I am pleased to announce that, effective immediately, all worthy and able young men who graduated from high school or its equivalent regardless of where they live will have the opportunity of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18 instead of age 19…. today, I am [also] pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19 instead of age 21.”

~President Thomas S. Monson, General Conference Morning Session October 6, 2012

Discuss.

53 Responses to New Missionary Policy

  1. ken on October 6, 2012 at 11:31 am

    A positive change. There is no good reason not to have girls leave at 19. But I have a 19 year old daughter who wants to go on a mission. . . Crap.

  2. Derek on October 6, 2012 at 11:56 am

    This will cause a yearly spike of new Elders in the summer, after high school graduation.

  3. Steve Smith on October 6, 2012 at 11:58 am

    I take this as a sign that the LDS is trying to produce an influx of missionaries, especially female missionaries. It will further reduce the chances of young men becoming involved in activity that would disqualify them from becoming a missionary or accepting beliefs that would led them to opt out of a mission (i.e. at college). But I think that it will also have a negative impact on the quality of missionaries. They will be much more immature and less developed.

    Another byproduct of younger missionaries will probably be an increase of younger marriages, and at an even younger age than before (more 20-21 year-old Mormon men getting married), and concomitantly younger first pregnancies. I get the sense that the LDS church likes the young marriages and young mothers because it increases the odds of long-term activity in the church because it decreases room for intellectual and behavioral “experimentation.” But at the same time, young marriages make it harder for people to pursue education and more prestigious careers; so fewer intellectual, high-class Mormons. Although maybe I’m reading too much into this (and I hope I am not offending anyone here).

    Overall, I can’t say that I am too keen on the policy change.

  4. Ed on October 6, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    This means that many young men will go from Young Men’s and seminary to the MTC. This will increase the responsibility of ward leaders to prepare the youth as many young men won’t have a college experience, a Church school or institute to help prepare them. It will be interesting.

  5. Matt W. on October 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    I think it is fantastic. My 9 year old and my wife have said “I’ll be a missionary in just 10 years” about 50 times this morning.

  6. Jason W. on October 6, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    #3: “I think that it will also have a negative impact on the quality of missionaries. They will be much more immature and less developed.”

    If today’s missionaries are anything at ALL like me and my group of friends (I served from ’05-’07), the year before your mission is basically a wash. You don’t spend your freshman year at college preparing for your mission (sadly) — you spent it messing around since you know you’ll be leaving in a year anyway. Leaving at 18 would have saved me a year of time I completely wasted. Sure, I prepared in the months leading up to my mission once I’d had my interviews/gone through the temple, but the year of school before that? The most unproductive of my life.

  7. Dave on October 6, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    This is really going to change the demographic profile of BYU’s freshman class.

  8. Alison Moore Smith on October 6, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    We wooted and cheered at this all around. But my 15-year-old daughter did ask, “Why don’t the boys and girls leave at the same age?” :/

  9. Sarah on October 6, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    I think this is great. I think a lot more girls will be going on missions, and we’ll have more girls marrying guys their own age (instead of ones three years older.) Boys will not spend an entire year at BYU being dating pariahs (because they’re “not RMs” and “will be leaving soon.”) And, female RMs will be less likely to feel like they’re already old maids two seconds after they get released (or as likely happens now, at about age 20.)

    I also think this will bring some seriousness to the period of time when, currently, boys are in YM, already have their Eagle, know that they have a year to kill before they have to do anything important, know that they have “lots of time” to get ready for a mission, and have no reason to try and get any scholarships since you normally can’t defer them for two years.

    The goofiness, stupidity, and lack of direction of boys in high school is largely because they have no real responsibility; every teeny tiny change to reverse that is awesome in my opinion.

  10. Suleiman on October 6, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    “The goofiness, stupidity, and lack of direction of boys in high school is largely because they have no real responsibility; every teeny tiny change to reverse that is awesome in my opinion.”

    Amen. But may I also add that the YM and YW I currently teach in a Utah high school are capable. This generation of kids is amazing.

  11. John Taber on October 6, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    There already is a summer spike at the MTC, because so many missionaries serve between school years.

  12. Dave on October 6, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Obviously, LDS leaders don’t see equalizing the ages at which men and women become eligible to serve as a priority — get over it. Overall, the policy change seems very positive — those who prefer to do a year of work or college can still do so. But there’s going to be a one-time bulge in missionary numbers as the newly eligible younger cohorts first enter the field, but I suspect also a permanent increase in the overall number of missionaries serving. Interesting.

  13. Steve Smith on October 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Jason (#6), by immature I mean not as mentally and socially capable. On my mission I noticed that the older missionaries were by and large more effective at engaging with members and investigators simply because their added years gave them a more mature mindset in social interaction. They were often times more capable of relating to people than the younger missionaries.

    “Boys will not spend an entire year at BYU being dating pariahs (because they’re “not RMs” and “will be leaving soon.”) And, female RMs will be less likely to feel like they’re already old maids two seconds after they get released (or as likely happens now, at about age 20.)”

    Yep, more young marriages.

  14. RobF on October 6, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    What I haven’t heard discussed yet is the YM/YW curriculum changes that are supposed to be coming out, with new manuals that reportedly address 12 monthly themes taken from Preach My Gospel. Also, we are getting a new sister missionary in our ward this week, and I was told there is a new churchwide program for training new missionaries in the field–with 12 weekly themes taken from…you guessed it, Preach My Gospel. Anybody know more about these changes, and how youth instruction/new missionary instruction may be correlated now?

  15. Arelius on October 6, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Live press conference now on KSL, channel 5.

  16. jader3rd on October 6, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    I think this is going to cause problems. I loved my Freshman year at BYU. Now Freshman girls who probably have never dated anyone yet are going to be surrounded by RM’s. I can see this increasing the LDS divorce rate, due to too many young people getting married too soon.
    Plus, wouldn’t it be more difficult to get accepted into college after being gone for two years, instead of returning to college?

  17. Last Lemming on October 6, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    My 19-year-old son is in the process of submitting his application. Our bishop takes “raising the bar” seriously, so it has been a slow process. I asked my son if he would have gone straight out of high school given the opportunity. (Doubly hypothetical because he was still 17 when he graduated.) He said “no”, but that was based on his hindsight of what he learned during his two years at BYU. For my part, I can say that he was not remotely ready for a mission at 18. He needed this time.

    I worry that this smells of lowering the bar. I’m sure that is not its intent, but if the social pressure to go at 18 is like the pressure to go at 19 has been, I fear it could happen. As long as the bar isn’t actually lowered, however, I’m fine with letting 18-year-olds who can clear it go on missions.

    And surely sisters never needed those extra two years to prepare, so three cheers for that change. I think it will do more than anything else to increase the baptism rate.

  18. Wilfried on October 6, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    The decision, as it was presented, is partly based on reports from mission presidents who already have 18-year olds serve and who testified as to their effectiveness and maturity. But these young men are from countries where they grew up as minority Mormons, often in convert families, and well used to interact with non-members and defend their faith. To what extent do American boys who grew up in protected Mormon environments match that profile at 18? Now they will go straight from high school into the field, without the one-year transition to broaden their horizon and gain some more maturity. Just wondering.

  19. Alison Moore Smith on October 6, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Obviously, LDS leaders don’t see equalizing the ages at which men and women become eligible to serve as a priority — get over it.

    Dave, way to put a slap down on those uppity women who long to have parity in the church. That’ll show ‘em.

    I’ll be heading back to the kitchen now.

  20. Tiffany W. on October 6, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Steve Smith, I’d like to challenge your assumption that young marriages lead to less education, fewer prominent careers, etc.

    My husband was 22 and I was 20 when we married. I have my bachelor’s degree and my husband has a PhD and an extremely good career as a scientist. In the 14 years we’ve been married,we both graduated from college, my husband pursued and earned his PhD, we had five children, and we’ve lived in three different countries, including Saudi Arabia, where we are currently living.

    I would be hard pressed to see how our family could have achieved more in our 14 years of marriage.

    Of course, there are young couples who are immature and not ready for marriage who are impeded by marriage. But my experience has been, as well as many of my friends, that many young couples do rise to the challenge of marriage, mature and develop, achieve goals, and move forward well in their lives.

  21. queuno on October 6, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    I must be stuck in moderation, but I think it only improves the marriage issue, and I think 18yo men from the US wiill be limited.

  22. Ranbato on October 6, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    In the news conference they said that the reason for the age difference is so that the Elders and the Sistera aren’t the same age while they are in the field. ;)

  23. ryan on October 6, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    There are pros and cons with anything, but I think the pros clearly outweigh the cons here.

    On the elders front, we lose a fair number of young men who go off to college, get distracted, and just don’t end up going on missions. I think there’s an implicit recognition here that the missionary program is often as much about securing young men into the church and preparing them for future leadership as it is converting non-members. Seems to me that getting a lot of young men into the mission field right away will give us gains that far outweigh the loss of an extra year of maturity, change in BYU or marriage demographics, etc.

    On the sisters front, the obvious impact will be that we’ll get a lot more of them, b/c going at 19 is going to be way, way more doable than going at 21. And based on my own experience in the field, having more sisters will be a massively good thing. They can get into doors and reach people that elders often can’t, and generally make for better missionaries (at least in my experience). Plus, having sisters as RM helps them and the church for the rest of their lives in the same way it helps the elders. This, to me, is a very, very good thing.

  24. Steve Smith on October 6, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    Tiffany, that’s terrific that you and your husband have accomplished so much by your mid-30s. But count yourself in the minority. The general tendency in society is the exact opposite of what you and your husband did: the younger that people marry, and especially the younger that people have kids, the greater the likelihood is that they will advance more slowly in education and their careers. Mentally and socially you and your husband were ahead of the curve: most people in fact aren’t ready to marry and start raising families at the ages of 20 and 22. Statistics vs. anecdotal evidence.

  25. Jim W on October 6, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    I like it. The sisters who serve will return as young as 20.5, the Elders at 20. The age disparity shrinks dramatically. Sister RMs will still have years of college left, so their desire to serve won’t look as daunting to their long term social prospects. For the young men, the option to leave sooner would make them better prepared for college. For those not ready at 18, the option to leave later is still there (maximum age is 25 for men).

  26. DavidH on October 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    The average young man graduates from high school.at age 18.5. If all young men leave at earliest possible date, then average young man gets home at 20.5, same age as women who serve at 19. Marriage ages in the US and in the church have been going up, not down. I don’t think men returning 6 months earlier will lower marriage age. Two decades ago men were returning at age 20.5 because for a few years male missions were shortened to 18 months. I didn’t notice any increase in young marriages. Moreover I think a lot of women will choose to put marriage off until after a mission. A women who today might choose to marry at 19you might well decide to wait 18 months and serve a missionfirst.

  27. Steve Smith on October 6, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    DavidH, yes I imagine that the average marriage age will not drop below what it was 20 years ago. But I think that the average marriage age will drop a little among RMs as a result of the policy change, even if it is just 6 months younger. It may be that the policy effectuates little overall change in current marriage and family trends, though.

  28. rbc on October 6, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    Our son graduated HS last summer (2011) and put his mission papers in June. He got his call in July and reported in August. He entered and left the MTC as an 18 yr old. On his mission papers he requested to begin in August so as to be home in time for the fall 2013 semester at USC (Southern Cal) where he had been accepted. USC easily deferred him and his scholarship for 2 years and the Church accommodated his request w/o the slightest reservation. We didn’t get any pushback from (1) our Bishop (2) our SP or (3) SLC. He will return home about 4 months shy of his 21st birthday.

  29. Kirsten on October 6, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    I’m grateful that Wilfried (18) brought up non-US cultures, which was one of the first things I wondered about — whether this change might ease mission participation for young men or women in other cultures. Would be interesting to know.

    I served a mission and didn’t leave until I was 22. It was important to me to finish my degree, and I don’t think that I would have wanted to interrupt my studies. On the other hand, being able to return to an in-progress degree program and figure out next steps might have been easier than trying to figure out grad school options from the mission field.

    And as for the age difference being intended to preclude having sisters and elders the same age in the field, I have to say that I have a hard time believing that the one-year difference will make any difference. There will always be overlapping ages, and now more than ever with the lowered ages for both. While there will be some sisters who are older, the more advanced elders in a mission will be a little older than the new sisters, and there will be some the same age.

    And is it even a reasonable assumption that the minimal age difference (when they’re all _about_ the same age anyway) keeps anybody from being interested, falling in love, etc.? That seems wishful.

  30. Wilfried on October 6, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Kirsten (29), thank you for noticing. The policy to have young men start their mission at 18 has been in place for some time in a number of countries where the educational system makes is cumbersome if not impossible to start college and then interrupt after a year to go on a mission. So, as such there is no change for foreign countries where it was already applicable.

    My remark had to do with maturity. I am not sure the reports by mission presidents that “our 18 year old missionaries are as efficient and mature” will be equally applicable, on average, to American young men from fully Mormon environments. Not to offend, but I am wondering. See my comment 18.

  31. Julia Taylor on October 6, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    There are definitely a lot of very excited young men and young women in the church today.

    I have heard about several girls calling their bishops to get mission papers to start filling out, today. I can’t help but be excited with them!

    My ten year old twins picked up right away that this means they will be able to serve missions at the same time as their brother. Three missionaries at once, lucky me! At least I have a few years. They have already been talking to their other cousins and second cousins, who are within a year of them, and the speculation about where they might go is on the giddy level. I didn’t think that they would get the “big deal” but as I often am, I was wrong.

    I do think that this is a response to the large number of youth, especially young women, who become inactive between the start of their senior year of high school and 18 months after they have graduated. Having goals to keep the young women engaged can be a good or bad thing, depending on where your sympathies lie.

    A less trumpeted thing that changed today, but is probably likely to impact more people, is that the new youth manuals were officially announced today, even though they have been available for a couple weeks if you knew where to look online. My mom is a YW president, and she says that a lot of the most troubling parts of the YW curriculum will be gone with the new program. For all of us who remember smooshed cupcakes, those are out. Object lessons in general are discouraged for the teachers, and if one is going to happen, the presidency is supposed to decide together. Whew! Instead YM and YW will be focusing on Preach My Gospel! Yeah!

    I haven’t read through all of it, so I am taking my mom’s word. I know that she has been intensely studying it, as her salvation in a calling that has been a struggle for her. She was called almost a year ago, and as a feminist had already cut out a lot of the “optional” activities as being destructive to the self esteem of the girls. She is looking forward to the stake training for YW leaders on Tuesday. Many of them are teachers or counselors in their professional lives, and their experiences will add a lot to that stake. I will be watching to see whether our stake has a bunch of new callings soon. With ward conferences coming, and a new stake president who is definitely an Oregon liberal, it should be interesting to watch.)

    If you want a break from thinking about General Conference, and a chance to be a little snarky, I am playing “Fantasy Fourth Ward,” and filling it up with celebrity Mormons. Come give your suggestions for who should be included. If it goes well, I am thinking that “Fantasy Fifth Ward,” full of bloggers will be next. I especially need help with International Mormon figures to be in Fourth Ward.

    http://poetrysansonions.blogspot.com/2012/10/mormon-moment-laugh-with-me-fantasy-4th.html

  32. Merkat on October 6, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    Great news! Rbc, I’m excited to hear that about USC! I’m in the USC ward and its a great place here. I’m so glad they easily deferred two years!

  33. Julia Taylor on October 6, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Wilfried,

    I think that the readiness of younger missionaries in the US varies a lot. I am constantly amazed at the things I read about online that bring people to a faith crisis. The vast majority of them I learned in Seminary, along with things the prophets themselves felt were their own flaws. If I didn’t learn about the “little known history” from the source documents, I at least knew where to start looking things up.

    Honors Seminary students often went on splits with the sister missionaries, and I was surprised how often I knew more of the answers to doctrinal “quirks” than they did. The priests reported similar experiences when doing splits with the Elders.

    I grew up in Oregon, where there is 10-20% of the population, depending on where in the state you are. I had a graduating class of 450, and 75ish were LDS. We had early bird and release time seminary. I graduated a year early, so I did not study the New Testament in seminary. It is my “weak spot,” but I still found myself able to hold my own with my non-Mormon friends.

    I think that my parent’s openness to letting me spend time in other churches, as a child, allows me to move through different religions very well. I have continued that tradition with my children, although they don’t have as large a variety of the religions represented in their friendship. They have been to vacation bible school at a baptist and Methodist church, and I still take them to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and regular mass a few other times a year.

    They have not been to first communion classes, and I don’t think they will have friends to do Bat Mitzah or Bar Mitzvah preparation classes. They don’t have Muslim friends, but we still talk about Ramadan and fast several days. I wish that they could go to a breaking the fast feast with Muslim friends, but none of mine are local anymore, and the closest mosque is over an hour away. We do go to Indian festivals often, and Native American events, and lots of political rallies for candidates from a variety of parties, and lots of political causes.

    I have no idea if I have answered your question, but hopefully it is useful.

  34. Wilfried on October 6, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Thank you, Julia (33). Of course you are right. I was not generalizing to all young men in the U.S., only to those from “protected” and “fully Mormon environments” as I said (comments 18 and 30). I meant by that 18-year olds from most of the Utah area’s, some from Idaho, where these high school grads will have none or very little of the great multi-religious and varied social experiences you describe within your family.

    As Steve Smith (3) said, there will be varied consequences to the new policy. He is certainly right to think “that it will also have a negative impact on the quality of missionaries. They will be much more immature and less developed.”

    Indeed, doing efficient missionary work is not only teaching the content of “Preach my gospel” and setting goals to get people baptized, it is also the ability to understand investigators’ serious questions and valid concerns, to sometimes discuss matters from a multi-religious perspective, and to be sensitive to the often severe familial implications and drama’s that conversion to Mormonism entails. My experience with decades of working with missionaries has been that, on average, the older the missionary is and the more empathy and varied experience from life he has, the more efficient he is.

  35. rbc on October 6, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    @32, the deferral was easy: a phone call and a follow up email; though, we laid the groundwork during their recruiting visit. I’m afraid he won’t return home to the Philadelphia area after spending time at USC. His MP has tried to talk him out of USC in favor of BYU, but we raised him better than that. Might explain why he’s still a junior companion after being out for 14 months. j/k. He’s all USC, for the moment.

    @18, we are definitely minority Mormon. Our son was the only Mormon in his graduating class of about 300. The only other Mormon in the HS was his sister. Now, with her older brother gone, she’s the only Mormon in the entire school of approximately 700+. That is hardly unusual in the Philadelphia area. Not sure if that made our son more or less mature, but he was anxious to go.

  36. Cameron N. on October 6, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    Amazing change.

    It makes missionary service more flexible, which is a good thing. Like the leaders said in the press conference, it is now ‘another option.’ In the US there is an unhealthy pressure to leave immediately, but maybe in part this can help that, although I’m sure that was not the Lord’s motivation.

  37. Cameron N. on October 6, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    Also, as a US boy in a strong ward and church region in Oregon, I submit that the 18-19 difference may exist for some, but for most I believe it is negligible.

  38. cjesqip on October 6, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    China, anyone? It had to be said.

  39. Tiffany W. on October 7, 2012 at 12:17 am

    Steve Smith, you’ve raised some interesting points. Your arguments would me more compelling if you would provide some source material for your assertions. I am particularly interested in studies that look at LDS couples. The broader U.S. culture and the LDS culture differ significantly in terms of the value we place on marriage and family and the age at which LDS men and women typically marry. While a look at the broader U.S. population would be significant and helpful, I don’t think it gives a very good picture of the LDS population in regards to marriage.

    I would agree that marriage at a younger rate does affect women’s education and career attainment. I know that I would have pursued more education if I hadn’t married so young. For me, I made a calculated choice not to pursue more education because I felt like it was important to prioritize having a family and supporting my husband in his educational pursuits. He certainly had far greater income potential that I did. A degree in English, while providing many fascinating opportunities to learn, doesn’t always lend itself to lucrative career choices.

    I’m also curious how you reconcile the recent trends in the United States where education and marriage are more closely linked as well as the attendant poverty rates which decrease for married couples.

    Finally, I don’t think our church leaders are particularly concerned about our young adults having prestigious careers. I think our leaders have always prioritized strengthening marriages and family. Education is a part of that and certainly our leaders want us to attain good levels of education and have careers that support families so that they can be self-sufficient. Sister Beck, in a 2009 talk to the CES leaders explicitly said that the reason the church invests so much money in education is to prepare men and women to become husbands, wives, and parents.

    http://www.lds.org/pa/rs/pdf/CES_2009_Beck_eng.pdf

  40. Ray on October 7, 2012 at 12:34 am

    My oldest daughter has been feeling strongly for the past few weeks that she should prepare to serve a mission. This week in the temple, she had an incredibly strong impression that she should serve “immediately”. She assumed that meant next summer, when she turns 21.

    She called me today in tears to tell me that she has asked her Bishop what to do to start her paperwork ASAP. She said she now understands the urgency of her recent promptings.

    She is a fierce feminist living in Provo (not attending BYU but in a student-dominated ward) at the mega-meetinghouse. It was incredible to hear her story of knowing God knows her personally and would prepare her in advance for this announcement.

    Right now, in the moment (as Pres. Uchtdorf said today), I don’t care one bit about reasons or speculations about effect. All four of my daughters are beyond happy about the change. They positively were glowing today. That’s the bottom line for me.

  41. Matthew on October 7, 2012 at 1:40 am

    Steve (24) Using the word “statistics” doesn’t make your argument stronger…you actually have to provide relevant statistics if you want to do that.

  42. Raymond Takashi Swenson on October 7, 2012 at 2:37 am

    I think the last two major changes in missionary service were in 1969, when foreign language missions were shortened from 30 months to 24 months, including the two months of intensive language training in what was called the “Language Training Mission” at what are now the three BYU campuses., and a few years later when language training was consolidated at BYU and the benefit of the LTMs for general purpose preparation was extended to all missionaries with a month of training. The latter was around 1975. I was in the first group getting language trainng at what was then Church College of Hawaii. The change to two years made it easier to transition back into “civilian” life by synching with the semesters at the college you left. It was also, I think, part of a grand bargain the Church made with the US Selective Service (the Military Draft) to cut back the amount of time that each missionary was using a ministerial deferment from the Draft. When it happened, the “two missionary per ward” quota that was imposed to limit the number of deferments was ended, as the length of deferments was reduced.

    Lots of countries (such as Switzerland) have compulsory military service and enlist every ypung man when he reavches age 20. In Japan, the better universities have their own unique entrance exams. once you are admitted, if you want to take time off for a mission, your choice is either to resign and start over on the exam process, or pay tuition for two years of your mission. By leaving on a mission at 18, you can avoid the dilemma about interrupting your education.

    I really doubt that being a slacker from ages 18 to 19, is going to help mature a young man and prepare him for a mission. The maturity comes from living the detailed requirements, of the mission.
    Going out at age 18 means the lessons start a year earlier.

  43. Sara R on October 7, 2012 at 8:45 am

    Is high school graduation a requirement for all missionaries, or just 18-year-old elders? Was high school graduation a requirement before?

  44. Cameron N. on October 7, 2012 at 8:52 am

    It seems like its equivalent was for the countries it’s been allowed in for a while, based on how they spoke about it.

  45. Ivy on October 7, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Anyone think it’s because a draft could be on the rise? This allows Lds members to fill military service and missionary service….like other countries?

  46. Wilfried on October 7, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Mathew (41) asked Steve Smith (24) to cite statistics that “the younger that people marry, and especially the younger that people have kids, the greater the likelihood is that they will advance more slowly in education and their careers”.

    Steve will probably respond, but numerous demographic studies for the whole of society confirm what he said. I limit the remarks here to women, which is a focus in the discussion. For statistical studies, just google the key words “effects early marriage education” (preferably Google Scholar, but Google as such already refers to plenty of academic studies). Most of these studies have to do with less developed countries where early marriage has dramatic consequences for girls’ education. For the U.S. this applies also partly to rural communities and to minorities.

    As to Mormons, the most recent ARIS and Pew surveys reveal differences between Mormon women in Utah and outside Utah. In Utah Mormon women have less education than non-LDS women. They are more likely to have only a high school diploma (24.1% to 18.8%) and less likely to have a graduate degree (8.3% to 17.5%). Mormon women outside of Utah show a different picture for high school completion (30% to 25.6%). But for a graduate degree Mormon women outside Utah score again lower (7.0% to 12.9%). I borrowed the summary from a chapter in press.

    Jeremy Uecker and Charles Stokes (University of Texas at Austin) published a study on early marriage in the United States (Journal of Marriage and Family vol. 70, issue 4, November 2008, pp. 835–846) which includes Mormons based on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (N 14,165). “The results indicate 25% of women and 16% of men marry before age 23, and early marriage varies widely across a number of characteristics. Individuals who marry earlier are more likely to be from disadvantaged families, from conservative Protestant or Mormon families, to value their religious faith more highly, to have a high school diploma but a lower educational trajectory.”

  47. Craig H. on October 7, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Great points Wilfried (18, 34). I’d also add one more reason to be a little wary about many 18-year-olds, besides cultural reasons, and that would be physiological reasons: the important brain-change that typically (hopefully) occurs at 19. I’d have favored 19 for everyone as a good general rule, and then leaving it to bishops and stake presidents to make exceptions as needed. Every year of maturity helps, especially for the demographic Wilfried had in mind.

  48. Steve Smith on October 7, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Matthew (41) and Tiffany (39), I think Wilfried (46) gives a fairly good response and cites a number of good studies.

    “I don’t think our church leaders are particularly concerned about our young adults having prestigious careers.”

    Gordon B. Hinckley in 2001 – “You are moving into the most competitive age the world has ever known. All around you is competition. You need all the education you can get. Sacrifice a car; sacrifice anything that is needed to be sacrificed to qualify yourselves to do the work of the world. That world will in large measure pay you what it thinks you are worth, and your worth will increase as you gain education and proficiency in your chosen field. You belong to a church that teaches the importance of education. You have a mandate from the Lord to educate your minds and your hearts and your hands.”

    Gordon B. Hinckley 2007 – “Resolve now, while you are young, that you will get all of the education you can … Education is the key that will unlock the door of opportunity. You may plan on marriage, and hope for it, but you are not certain that it will come. And even though you marry, education will be of great benefit to you.”

    Although he doesn’t directly mention careers, it is strongly implied. Church leaders want the best of both worlds: they want people to marry young/have lots of kids and be highly educated with prominent careers. Young marriages and high birth rates mean a higher population of Mormons who are deeply rooted in the church, and prominent careers and high education mean more tithing and better outside image. But church leaders know very well that they don’t have much to gain from large numbers of uneducated members who are barely scraping to make a living.

  49. Chadwick on October 7, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    There is an article on the Deseret News that says “New mission policy impacts BYU sports recruiting in a big way.” I really really hope the change had NOTHING to do with this…. =)

  50. Ray on October 7, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    “I’d have favored 19 for everyone as a good general rule, and then leaving it to bishops and stake presidents to make exceptions as needed.”

    That is intended to be the general rule now, since it was emphasized that leaving at 18 is an option now world-wide but most young men in the USA don’t graduate from high school until after they turn 18 anyway. It’s unlikely that many such young men will be leaving right as they turn 18. It’s much more likely that the vast majority who leave earlier than they have been leaving will be leaving when they are between 18.5 and 19 – generally during the summer after they graduate.

  51. Tiffany W. on October 8, 2012 at 2:58 am

    Thanks for your thoughtful response and sharing those terrific quotes, Steve Smith. And I appreciate those statistics, Wilfried. Over the years, my husband and I have mostly been around highly educated and professional LDS and non-LDS families and couples. So my perception is definitely colored by my experiences which largely come from living in New York, Sweden, Israel, and now Saudi Arabia.

    I certainly have a high regard for education for both men and women. I personally feel that education for women cannot be over-emphasized. It seems to me that despite what prophets have taught (going all the way down to Brigham Young) regarding women and education, the practice and reality of it in Utah is disheartening.

    I guess I should clarify my comments about pushing prestigious careers in the church. I guess I mean that I don’t think our leaders want us to sacrifice marriage and family for prestigious careers. You certainly cited some great quotes from President Hinckley about the value and importance of a good education.

    I don’t see a conflict of interest in marrying young, having a family, obtaining a good education, and pursuing an intellectual career. I value my own education that I received and it has proved to be immensely valuable to me as a mother. I also value my husband’s education and feel like his talents and abilities would have been wasted if he had not pursued higher education. We lived very frugally for 10 years while he studied and walked away with very little student debt. I’m not saying that any of this easy or even fun. It’s not really a picnic when you have 3 small children, very little money, and your husband is studying like mad, but it can be done. I feel like the sacrifices we made as family were worthwhile. In order to achieve that, you have to be very focused as a family.

  52. Matthew on October 8, 2012 at 10:42 am

    I had understood Steve to be saying that one way Tiffany’s experience was an exception to the norm was that her husband had done well professionally despite having had children at a young age (23ish I’m guessing). Steve did I misunderstand you?

    Because if your point was that women who get married in their early 20s and have children soon after tend to reach their education and professional achievements slower, then I was a bit off track asking for statistics to back that up. In fact in my experience where I have worked with friends in San Francisco for many years, my female colleagues who have married in their late 30s and then had even just one child, I would still argue, end up having professional achievements slow down for a time. Of course that’s anecdotal.

    But in any case, in a culture where women take on most of the childcare responsibilities, if a woman has children before finishing up the education she is pursuing…I definitely agree it will slow down her educational and professional achievements.

    As often can be the case, turns out we all agree once we are clear on what is being said.

  53. Julia on October 9, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    In all of the talk about education, how do people feel that new curriculum for YW and YM will play into this dynamic on education. You can read my Mormon Moment Series post here for most of my thoughts. http://poetrysansonions.blogspot.com/2012/10/mormon-moment-series-part-seven-come.html

    I think that the landscape is going to be so drastically different, for my son who turned 12 in February, after 6 years in the new program, that I can’t imagine that the choices that we currently have about missions and education will look very similar to his. After 5 years of learning and studying the scriptures and gospel in a context that is equalized for YW and YM, I suspect that there will be an increased desire to serve in all of our youth. Maybe I am being too overly optimistic, but when I listen to the leaders who have already started using the curriculum, and look at my children who have just entered the programs, or will in the next 2-4 years, I am much more hopeful. My YW experience follows many of the horror stories you hear about YM putting dows YW who are smart and ambitious, and putting great emphasis on the difference between them preparing for a mission, and excluding YW from those discussions. I don’t think my children will be as likely to hear those messages, as the new curriculum is absorbed, and then taught by the yourth.