The American Dream – Utah Mormon Style

Megan McArdle went to Utah seeking answers. How is it that Utah has upward mobility approaching the most progressive nations in the world? She attempted to answer in an article published yesterday in Bloomberg:

What is Upward Mobility?

If you are born in the bottom 25% of the population, how likely is it that you’ll pull yourself up into the top 25% of the population?

Denmark leads the world with a documented upward mobility a bit over 11%.

In Salt Lake City, upward mobility is just under 11%, the highest in the United States. By comparison, Charlotte, North Carolina, has upward mobility of only 4%.


Money Can’t Buy Dreams: Utah doesn’t spend to achieve this mobility. It’s spending on education per pupil is dead last in the nation.

Welfare, Mormon-style: But Utah government is able to lean on the many Mormons in the community. The Mormon welfare system comes in for astonished praise: Help them out, but get them to a point where they can help themselves.

Mercy: Regardling the dire poor, McArdle talks about how Utah prioritizes getting people in housing, “Housing First.” This can rankle with people who believe the poor deserve their plight, but in Mormon-dominated Utah, mercy tends to take precedent over justice.

Regarding others as Equals: In Utah the poor and the rich are in the same communities. The geographically-based Mormon congregations come in for a good part of this egalitarianism. In Utah people tend to see each other as equals. Children get to know those in the upper 25% of the economic pecking order, having a chance to have these folks as mentors and role models. McArdle suggests Utah’s racial sameness contributes to the lack of distrust and animosity seen on other communities.

Marriage: Finally, McArdle points out that marriage matters. Children raised by married parents fare better, putting them in a position to aspire to the upper middle class in their later lives. Even when there are single parents, children in a community where the majority of children have married parents do better, despite the unmarried state of their own parent(s).


McArdle worries that these factors that make Utah such a dreamy place aren’t easily replicated without Mormonism. But she hopes that some aspects of what makes Utah a place where every child can dream of aspire economic prosperity could be an example for other communities, if only to see that upward mobility is possible.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

9 thoughts on “The American Dream – Utah Mormon Style

  1. Interesting, government agencies like the CIA have come to Utah to find out how we get our missionaries to learn languages so fast and well. They have never been able to replicate it in their language schools. It comes down to charity, the pure love of Christ. That motivates us. That’s why our welfare efforts do so well too.

  2. Regarding the CIA…… is a rogue, corrupt entity, weaponized against America and her citizens. Those in the CIA have sold their souls to the devil many decades ago, so there is no way that agency, or any government agency, can replicate language learning like the LDS missionaries, because the entire government is so corrupt and evil.

  3. While Utah is majority white, the missionary program exposes many young men and women to other cultures in a way that tends to ease prejudice that might inhibit upward mobility. My primary class includes five ethnic groups, hispanic, polynesian, amerind, oriental, and white in four boys. There is a divide, but it is based on religion. Some white Americans have bemoaned the feeling of being ‘less than’ because in many communities they are not part of the dominant culture. This includes many aspects that are only available to those who have become members of the Church. Even those who leave know more than those who never participated. Members of the Church in Utah are sometimes so eager to avoid giving offense that they avoid talking about the Church and ironically leave an impression that they are excluding incomers to the state.

  4. It’s interesting to note that Mia Love is the only Black congressperson elected by a district that isn’t majority Black. At least that’s what I recall.

    In other words, in Mormonism it is far more important what your faith is than what your race is. On a tangent, this is why it is so hard for those who lose their faith, as they experience a loss of community that is relatively hard to achieve regarding race or gender.

  5. Given the Book of Mormon’s admonitions against social classes, this is good news.

    What I really enjoyed is how members, with strong families and an entrenched service ethic can act as “leavening” or be “salt” for the rest of the community. In Utah, good families can be “scaffolding” for those whose families are struggling.

    I would question whether the LDS worldview is really “compassionate conservatism.” I think the designation is in some ways inaccurate and I don’t want us as a people pigeon-holed politically for our religious beliefs and practices.

  6. I’ve discussed this before, and Geoff has concurred, that cultural Mormon families only stay in the church for one generation: if their children don’t honestly believe in the foundational claims, they leave, and they don’t maintain outward Mormon cultural/behavioral norms.

    I suppose this would hold for non-members who embrace “cultural Mormonism.” If they attempt to live Mormonism outwardly, mimicking Mormons, without believing, well that’s okay, better than nothing. But will their children follow suit? Doesn’t it take “true believers”, in any religion, to raise up kids in the same tradition as the parents?

    Now that the secular western cultural flow is counter to every “true believing” Judeo-Christian religion, I don’t think any Judeo-Christian religion can propagate outward behavior without the sincere internal belief.

    So, bottom line… No… Outward mormonism, or Mormon-ish behavior, can’t be replicated without a sincere belief in at least some form of biblical Christianity. And because most other Christian churches/communities no longer have the communitarianism of the LDS (the Amish being one exception), then I don’t think it can be replicated outside of the LDS church. (Absent a major reformation/revival in Catholicism, evangelicalism, or in mainline Protestant churches.)

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