I just finished reading the Bernard Madoff biography Wizard of Lies that, in part, details how Madoff ingratiated himself with and defrauded a significant chunk of the East Coast Jewish community. Of course that sparked my thinking about parallels in our own religious community, as it has become sort of a truism that Latter-day Saints are particularly susceptible to fraud. Consequently, I decided to dive into the numbers. I couldn’t find anything empirically testing whether high Latter-day Saint areas tend to be more fraudulent, so I did my own analysis. The 2010 American Religious Census has an indicator for number of Latter-day Saints for thousand in a county, and the Uniform Crime Reporting System shows the number of frauds committed in each county in the year 2010.
I merged the two datasets by their fips code, generated a “fraud per thousand” measure using the county population numbers in the UCRS, looked at whether Latter-day Saints per thousand is associated with frauds committed per thousand, and found that more Latter-day Saints= fewer frauds. (As always, my code is on my github).
The graph is below (sorry I didn’t take time to make it pretty; I’ve already spent too much family time on this).
For the wonks, the correlation was -.07, so it’s not much, but it was statistically significant (I’d log the values in the graph, but for our purposes here I’m trying to keep things simple). From a regression approach, each additional Latter-day Saint per thousand= -0.0006 fewer frauds per thousand (p<.01).
So, as far as I know there isn’t any empirical justification for the canard that Latter-day Saints tend to be either more susceptible to or commit frauds more. In fact, the evidence points to the other way, with Latter-day Saint heavy areas showing less fraud overall.
However, “fraud” is a very broad category, and maybe we’re particularly susceptible to a special type of confidence crime type fraud involving church affiliations, and particularly leadership positions. I doubt there’s any data on “confidence crimes” in general, but others have curated excellent data on Ponzi schemes, and the story told when we look specifically at those crimes that are rarer but often quite damaging in dollar terms may support the narrative, so stay tuned for part II.