Besides Family Home Evening, the Church encourages family and individual Scripture study. Many families rise at 5 A.M. to read several chapters of the Book of Mormon before they go off separately to work and school. Families report reading through the four scriptural "standard works" several times over the years. Others start each school year with resolve and break down within a few weeks or months. Sometimes "ward families" assign readings and celebrate when goals are reached. Leaders also encourage family prayer, morning and evening. Families kneel together, grateful for past benefits and hopeful for future help. At testimony meetings, adults and children often say they are grateful for the family prayer and scripture reading that unify and strengthen their families. Extended families meet regularly for dinner. They have family organizations and gather for family reunions. These reunions, extending interest in the family and genealogy over time, are very much part of the Mormon scene. Some reunions are huge annual events with four or five generations; others are small.
One family converged on the Oregon coast in 2002. Four generations descended from a married pair born in the early twentieth century were represented. Since the deaths of the founding couple, family members have met less often. They came together at a seaside resort curious about their cousins. Included were the three children of the original pair with spouses, children, and grandchildren who have driven and flown from distant places. Of the missing, one was on a Church mission, another in the military, another far away, and others had commitments. They talked and ate, visited historical sites, learned about ancestors, renewed friendships, and gave the children a chance to play together. The oldest grandchild, at age twelve, hobnobbed with the adults. Others paired with cousins the same age. They played soccer and kickball on the field near the big, beach front lodge and played board games and watched television inside. Babies were traded back and forth.
Most large reunions run for a single day with people meeting at a park and bringing their own lunch. This reunion ran for four days to a week because people had come so far. Some events commemorated the family's past: a tour of old family houses, a history program with old pictures, and funny stories. The evening's climax was a video of the reunion to date. During the day, the group visited tidal pools. They toured an old fort, flew kites, and waded at the beach. At the end, they returned to family matters. Many reunions end with testimony meetings. This one had a nondenominational service because of members without Church commitments. A new baby received a grandfather's priesthood blessing. Each family presented a story, a song, or a speech; all were cheerfully applauded. Then came the goodbyes. The lodge emptied; the cars were driven away. Of the fifty people attending this reunion, five were second-generation, fifteen of the third, and about twenty-five of the fourth. What did this evolving Mormon family look like? Most were white Anglo-Saxons, but there were variations. One second-generation blended family, with his three children and her daughter, also adopted three boys of mixed race. One of the Anglo sons married a Latina and later a Jew. One girl married a black, another a Catholic. Most of the family were identifiably Mormon; some were unchurched.
Lots of non-LDS families have family reunions, too. Are LDS families then really any different from other middle-American families? Statistical studies reveal four ways that Mormon marital patterns differ from the mainstream: Mormons (1) are more conservative about sexual behavior before marriage; (2) are more likely to marry, less likely to divorce; (3) have larger families; and (4) have families marked by more male authority and a traditional division of labor between husbands and wives. The Mormon families differ from others by small amounts.
Mormons (1) are more conservative about sexual behavior before marriage. Young Church members are strongly and repeatedly admonished to refrain from sexual activity before marriage. Nationally, 80 percent of teens have had sexual relations by the time they reach twenty. Among the Mormons, the number is 50 to 60 percent, lower than the national average, but much higher than people would like it to be. The results of the National Study of Youth and Religion, a four-year telephone survey of 3,370 randomly selected young Americans ages thirteen to seventeen, combined with personal interviews of 267 more, showed that on most measured criteria, Mormon youth were the most engaged in practicing their faith. More than 80 percent of American teens believe in God, but their religious knowledge is "remarkably shallow." "The LDS Church asks a lot of its teenagers, and it would appear that, more often than not, they get it," concluded researcher Steve Vaisey. When belief and "social outcomes" are measured, "Mormon kids tend to be on top." Sociologists suggested that early morning seminary, the scriptural study program, might be the reason Mormons scored so well, "traversing the choppy waters of adolescence" by "avoiding risky behaviors, doing well in school and having a positive attitude about the future." In the study, LDS youth were 73 to 75 percent very similar to their parents' religious beliefs, compared to 30 to 50 percent for other religions. Fewer young Mormons engaged in sexual intercourse, smoked pot, drank alcohol, or watched xrated or pornographic films. "LDS affiliation and practice tends to have a protective effect," says Bartkowski, a Mississippi State University sociology professor.
Mormons (2) are more likely to marry, less likely to divorce. Information from the long form questionnaire of the 2000 Census yielded the expected conclusion that Utah and Idaho, with high Church populations, were the states with the highest marriage rates. The place of the least divorce is the densely Mormon town of Provo, Utah. On the other hand, the Census yielded the surprising information that Utah tops the national average for the percentage of women in the work force. Statewide, 61 percent of all women over sixteen were working in 2000 compared to 57.5 percent nationally. Low pay and large families were suggested as reasons. The number of residents who have never been married was the highest also, but that group representing 27.9 percent of the population may be less significant as the number includes those from age fifteen and up plus Utah's many students. Mormons want to be married and are less willing to give up on their marriages than others.
Mormons (3) have larger families. Active LDS in the United States have one more child, on average, than other predominantly American groups of English and Scandinavian backgrounds. These trends rise and fall parallel to national trends, but the consequences of big families differ. An Ohio State University sociologist, Douglas Downey, compared family size, religion, and intellectual achievement. He concluded that children from large families are low achievers, except LDS youth. The higher achievement among big Mormon families, he speculated, may result from their directing a larger share of total resources to their children than other parents.