Taking a Jewish Page From the Book of Mormon on Interfaith Marriage

What We Can Learn From Salt Lake City

Marriage, Mormon Style: They marry young, while the church still has influence.
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Marriage, Mormon Style: They marry young, while the church still has influence.

By Naomi Schaefer Riley

Published April 14, 2013, issue of April 19, 2013.
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When it comes to marriage, the most striking demographic difference between Jews and Mormons is the age at which they get married. The average age of a first marriage for Mormons is, according to my study, 23, and for Jews it’s 27. Because the sample of both groups was relatively small, we tried to confirm these statistics by looking at other studies.

If we look at data taken from the 2006 General Social Survey (the last time researchers asked the question about age at first marriage), Jews married at 25.8 and Mormons at 22.6.

The church elders realize that marriage and family are crucial to involvement in the faith, and so they try as soon as possible to get their members married and settled into a particular community. The church does not want members to experience those “odyssey years” when “emerging adults” tend to drift in and out of relationships and in and out of religious institutions. That is when you start to lose them.

Indeed, it seems that unlike most other faith communities in the United States, the LDS Church’s demands are most intense on members in their early 20s. Men are asked to serve a two-year mission, and women may serve an 18-month one.

As Allison Pond wrote in The Wall Street Journal at the end of 2011: “The most important converts to Mormonism might be the missionaries themselves. Studies indicate that returned missionaries maintain strong levels of religious activity, with more than 80% attending services each week and paying tithes to the church. Returned missionaries also tend to have high educational levels and marriage rates.”

The closest thing that Jews have to the missionary experience is Taglit-Birthright Israel. Both programs take 20-somethings out of their usual environs and give them an intensive communal experience. One lasts for 10 days and serves as a kind of extended Saturday night mixer; the other lasts a year and a half and asks young men and women to fully take ownership of their faith and responsibility for the continuity and expansion of their community.

Jewish institutions, meanwhile, do not seem for the most part to talk about marriage early on. Jewish youth groups certainly serve as a pool for making same-faith friends and even for finding romantic partners. But few Jews in high school ever hear about marriage as a priority.


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