Mormons and Motherhood Policies

Policy experts have long noted the perplexing problem of low birthrates among the most free and democratic countries. Indeed, most European countries have negative birthrates, meaning European women are having less than the two children it takes to replace the population. Though America still has a positive birthrate, experts project that we will be in the same situation as Europe within the next fifty years. The consequence of a low birthrate is that countries have an increasingly older  population. This presents a variety of problems, obviously a smaller and older workforce decreases productivity and threatens the solvency of pension and social insurance systems.

Many countries have tried to boost the birthrate by instituting a variety of family-related policies such as subsidized maternity leave and tax benefits for having children. Unfortunately, these policies have not been as effective as policy makers would have hoped. A new study, however, shows that providing families with affordable, high quality child care does have a positive effect on the birthrate. In other words, policies aimed at helping women combine career and family are the most effective in convincing couples to have more children.

My personal experience backs this finding up. I currently have three children and would ideally like to have a fourth but am hesitant to do so due to child care concerns. I want the freedom to pursue a career and don’t want to be stuck at home for another five years. While the tax breaks are nice, they don’t come close to covering the cost of pre-school for my two older children, and they only go twice a week. I would be much more likely to have that fourth child if I knew that I had an affordable, high quality child care option.

I have wondered if this finding can be applied to the Mormon church as well. Obviously a shrinking birthrate effects the number of members that the church will have in the future but I think this issue can also be applied more broadly. First, the structure of the church has not kept up with the modern demand of equal partnership in marriage. With many Mormon men being recruited for leadership positions and the extra time demanded of them to complete home teaching, women are called upon to pick up the slack at home. mr. mraynes averages 10 hours a week in church service on top of his full-time job. That 10 hours is taken directly from our family time and does little to encourage me that having another child is a great idea.

But I think this issue can be stretched even further. Women are leaving the church at an appalling rate, with estimates of young women leaving anywhere from 40% to 70%. I think it’s time we ask ourselves why this is. Perhaps it is because we have defined womanhood as almost solely motherhood. It can’t be a surprise that our young women leave the church when they believe that there is only one way to be a good Mormon woman and it’s not one they’re interested in.

Maybe if we opened up our definition and our doctrine of what it is to be a woman we would see a reduction in the number of young women leaving the church? Like the birthrate increasing when governments offer childcare because it provides women with more options, maybe encouraging Mormon women to follow their dreams, whether that take them into motherhood, career or both, would stop the hemorrhaging of young women the church is currently facing.

Make no mistake, the church’s focus on women being mothers and staying at home is a policy decision regardless of one’s belief of its divine origin. It is time to re-evaluate if this policy decision is serving us well.


Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

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27 Responses

  1. Jesse says:

    Even if we just stopped the teaching, reiterated in Julie Beck’s recent Ensign article on Teaching the Doctrine of the Family and enforced by church policies on vasectomy and tubal ligation that we must have as many children as possible to be good Mormon women.

    I am tired of being a bad Mormon for reasons that have nothing to do with the actual doctrine (families are important) of the gospel and everything to do with the culture (therefore you must have as many children as possible) of the church. I value my family. I have two wonderful children. I am frequently told that I should have more children. I have absorbed the lesson that I am wicked because my uterus works, but it is not full.

    (sarcasm) Please, sir, can I have some more? (end sarcasm)

    • Mraynes says:

      Jesse, I can feel your pain in your comment, I’m so sorry that you have been hurt by our focus on motherhood. It is so frustrating to feel judged by fellow saints for something that has nothing to do with your kindness or righteousness. I hope that you can come to a place of peace and know that there are others who love and support you as you are. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  2. MB says:

    Perhaps, but it’s not likely, in my opinion, that we’d see a significant reduction. Other faiths with a take on womanhood that is closer to the “follow your dreams” ideal have similarly challenging attrition rates. I think that the focus on homebuilding does act as a catalyst for the departure of some young women, but I am not aware of any research that identifies it as the primary reason for the exodus. And the young women I’ve known who’ve left have done so to engage in a wide variety of alternative ways of living and belief systems, including ones that are very much at-home-with-kids.

    And isn’t the exodus of young single men of similar proportions? Though it’s possible that some of those young single men are leaving for the reason you cite, I doubt that it’s a significant percentage of them. Is there a correlation between reasons young women leave and reasons young men leave?

    Is anyone aware of a study that identifies catalysts for departure?

    • amelia says:

      source for your assertion that other denominations lose women at the same rate? I’d love to see some actual research on the question of women leaving the Mormon church and it would be even more interesting if it provided contextual information about other religions as well.

      • MB says:

        Lifeway Research did a study in 2007. The study found that seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 — both evangelical and mainline — who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23. The statistics are based on a survey of 1,023 Protestants ages 18 to 30 who said they had attended church at least twice a month for at least one year during high school. LifeWay did the survey in April and May of 2007. Margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

        The study was referenced in an article from the Aug 6, 2007 edition of USA today.

      • MB says:

        Lifeway Research did a study in 2007. The study found that seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 — both evangelical and mainline — who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23. The statistics are based on a survey of 1,023 Protestants ages 18 to 30 who said they had attended church at least twice a month for at least one year during high school. LifeWay did the survey in April and May of 2007. Margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

        You can find the research on Lifeway’s web site under the “Church Dropouts” section. Links there include a powerpoint on reasons the young adults cited for their leaving.

      • amelia says:

        Thanks, MB. I was just asking Ziff over at ZD about stats re: women leaving the church this weekend and he wasn’t aware of any specific stats. It looks like this study doesn’t actually address Mormon attrition rates, but I’ll see what I can find in it.

      • MB says:

        oops. Apologies for the redundant post.

    • Mraynes says:

      Thanks for your comment, MB, I think you raise several good points. First, I want to state that I’m not ready to live or die on the arguments I present in this post, I just think we need to be asking the questions. I don’t know much about other faiths’ attrition rate but I think all religions face the problem of staying relevant in their members’ lives. If people don’t see them as relevant they’re more likely to leave. My personal belief is that our leaders need to be asking how to stay relevant for young women.

      I agree with you, the focus on homebuilding is not going to be every young woman’s reason for leaving. My own sister left because of Prop 8 but I also think that she left because didn’t want to be the good Mormon woman she learned about in YW’s. As for YM, they don’t live in a void and are certainly affected by gender expectations placed on them. Maybe YM leave because they don’t like the idea of a lifetime of church service as well as the overwhelming responsibility of providing for a family. Considering the emphasis on marriage for men during Conference this explanation might not be far from the truth.

      This goes back to what I was saying about relevancy; I’m afraid that we are losing young people because they don’t like the options presented them. Whether it has to do with homemaking or not I don’t know. But we certainly couldn’t lose anything by switching our rhetorical focus to being better disciples of Christ and following your dreams. Thanks for the great comment!

  3. Caroline says:

    Those are good questions, MB. I have also heard that the church is hemorrhaging young women, but I don’t know how that compares with the YM the church loses.

    Mranyes, I love your questions as well. I do believe that most women would be much happier if they felt like there were a number of accepted paths within Mormonism. I’ve learned from my single friends that the focus on wifehood and motherhood is incredibly alienating for people who aren’t in that situation. And because of the church’s focus on stay at home momhood, making decisions about children and career can be angst inducing and lead to a lot of self-doubt and depression for women interested in careers, no matter which path they eventually choose.

    Which is why, IMO, Chieko Okazaki had it right all along. Let’s focus on being disciples of Christ. Period. Let’s forget the culture wars, and think about how we can develop Christ-like attributes, whether we work outside the home or not.

    • spunky says:

      I have heard that as well, Caroline– I actually think I heard it about 12 years ago from a friend who worked in church stats (he no longer works there). So this is not a new problem.

  4. Hope says:

    where do you get the rate for young women leaving the church from?

  5. MJK says:

    As a young…ish woman who is pondering whether to go back to church your post made an important point that I’ve been struggling with – the amount of time the Church asks of its members. I was talking with my visiting teachers, one of whom was newly assigned to me and we were discussing our various histories in the church – she is twice divorced the first marriage having been textbook by lds standards – fairly quick courtship, honeymoon baby and then the husband working long hours to get his PhD while the wife stays home with the baby. Add to that the church callings and they never saw each other. The marriage fell apart because they had no time together as a couple.

    My husband and I now have a child and we both work because with the student loans my husband took out to get his second degree we can’t afford not to. (The second degree that, 10 years ago, was supposed to assure his ability as a good provider though it never did, and we prayed about it constantly and had confirmation it was the right thing to do. Bitter? Why yes I am.) I have to work Saturdays so the only day we have off in common is Sunday. Three hours of church, four if you count transportation to and from, which is not even relaxing spiritual time together anymore with a toddler running around being a toddler. And since I work full time and he’s in daycare shuffling him off to nursery is not that appealing – I’d like to actually see my child too and play with him myself. Throw church callings on top of that and things like Enrichment and other ward activities, and I”m going to say no – I will selfishly take that time and spend it with my family.

    I worry the church preaches it wants to strengthen families but while it cares a lot about babies, it doesn’t care too much about actual marriages. Or maybe I”m just supposed to end up in a sexless marriage like half the women in my relief society claim to be.

  6. E says:

    This argument about publicly financed child care always interests me, because it does seem to make sense that subsidizing parenthood should make parenthood more attractive, but all of the countries that have that kind of model have below replacement birthrates. Obviously, factors affecting birthrates are a lot more complex than just the economics.

    • Alisa says:

      I thought that they subsidized longer maternity leave and childcare in an effort to boost already-low birth rates. So yes, those countries have a low birth rate, and the family-friendly policy is a way to try to help change the trend, just like the OP suggests.

      • chanson says:

        Yes, exactly.

        A very interesting case in point was highlighted in the OECD study: the comparison between Italy and France (two countries that have a lot of cultural similarities and cultural exchange). The French are reproducing at almost the replacement rate, whereas the Italians have one of the lowest birth rates in the developed world. In France, moms have guaranteed maternity leave, guaranteed pre-natal and well-baby care, subsidized day care, and — most important of all IMHO — three years of high-quality public kindergarten starting from age 3.

        I had my two babies in France, and I can tell you that it is a huge deal to have these advantages when you’re a young family deciding whether you can afford to have (another) kid!

        As far as Italy is concerned, I don’t know what programs the do or don’t offer families. However, by coincidence, I was in Italy when this new study came out, and I picked up an Italian newspaper where it was reported. Basically the Italian article said that they (the Italians) probably need to get serious about adopting some more mom-friendly policies.

  7. jenneology says:

    I’ve thought similarly before. Along the lines that if the workplace were structured differently, maybe the church would have different policies in regards to mothers in the work place. I was very heartened to hear that Elder Cook called members of the church to work for family friendly workplace policies. I’m beginning to think that he gets it when it comes to women’s experiences as mothers with marketable skills and education.

    In one of the Women’s Service Mission, I basically asked the same question (here’s the link: If the workplace were different, would women be more encouraged to parent their children and use their skills? A corollary to that then is maybe its inaccurate for us to blame the church for feeling that we are stuck at home (I feel the same way) but that the blame more squarely is placed on the structure of our country and its public policies.

    I know I err on the idealistic side but I do hope that the American workforce will change and become more like the European models. I haven’t heard any denunciations from church leaders on those structures…

    Mraynes, I really would like to see an organized effort of LDS people to work for those family friendly policies that Elder Cook suggested. I just wish I knew what that would look like and how to go about gathering cooperation among church members.

  8. Stella says:

    Interesting post mraynes! As usual. I know that I would consider having a child with more concerted effort if I could find affordable and *high quality* childcare. It seems the news is mostly peppered with the bad stories. This would be very interesting to look into.

    I think the all major Christian religions will continue to lose female population if they can’t give them the divine feminine to connect to. It would be interesting to see if redefining women’s roles, and then having a clear vision of a female divine would help activation levels.

    As it stands, I tend to like worshipping on my own than in a church house. I enjoy having my time free to decide between nature, walking, writing, meditating, or even a church service every once in a while. I just like being open to what I’m feeling during the week and not limit it to a mandatory 3 hour block on Sunday. Getting back into that groove would be very hard for me after not having it the last four years.

  9. Jessawhy says:

    What a good point, MRaynes!

    I had access to high quality affordable childcare last summer and it was the difference between happiness and misery for me. The childcare place closed down (unsurprising given that they charged essentially $0.52 per hour per child in the program and $15 per hour for drop ins) and I was so disappointed!

    I’m not sure if I’ll ever find a place that I’m comfortable enough to send my kids, but I honestly haven’t looked that hard. In the fall I’ll only have 1 left at home and he would probably prefer full time preschool to begin at home with me all day.

    I wish the church really supported family friendly policies. I’m glad to hear that Elder cook is beginning to .

  10. Macha says:

    Excellent post. I think you hit the nail on the head. When women feel that they can handle having a family and a career, they’re more likely to do both. When they don’t think it’s feasible, they’re going to sacrifice one or the other, and in this society, the family part is the one that gets left by the wayside for many women.

  11. Strong Man says:

    What is your source for the rates of women leaving the church? I would be absolutely shocked if any entity other than the Church has access to this real data, and very surprised if the Church ever published it. I’ve seen plenty of claims about this, but no solid sources.

    Having said that, for this to be meaningful at all, you would need to know men’s departure rates, or how those rates compare to people in other churches. Most churches in the western world are struggling to retain both men and women, especially at young adult ages. It’s possible and likely that Mormons are actually doing better than most other churches in this area.

  12. diligentdave says:

    I write here close to 10 months after the last reply. However, I find the arguments for women “fulfilling themselves” hollow. A couple of weeks ago, I took the number of “children of record” (the closest statistic given by the LDS Church to give some indication of birth rates and fertility rates in the Church). Most interestingly, I believe that for the most recent numbers given, speaking worldwide, LDS Church birth rates MAY be as low as 115 children or so born for every 200 adults per lifetime. If so, this would mean LDS members’ overall birthrates are close to that of South Korea, whose TFR (Total Fertility Rate) per woman is close to the same number. I know that in some countries, like Mexico, for example, the TFR for LDS (“Mormon”) women is below that of the national average TFR (Total Fertility Rate – per lifetime).

    For your information (FYI), only ONE nation among the 45 to 47 or so nations with “advanced economies” is NOT in sub-replacement mode. That single nation is Israel, among whose ultra-Orthodox sects, the TFR is 8.5 children per woman per lifetime. Also interestingly is found, in that statistic, that among the husbands and fathers of those ultra-Orthodox Jews, a whopping 60% of the MEN are unemployed, while a majority of their wives ARE employed! What a wonky situation, to be sure!

    The birth dearth that has been going on for nearly half a century among many of those in most nations (with advanced economies), is, I believe, producing the global economic depression the world is currently experiencing. And, from what I have been able to discover, a major birth dearth, beginning in about 1910 in the US, likely was the real underlying cause behind the Great Depression that was evident in the 1930’s.

    I believe, in fact, that it was the so-called “baby boom” (from 1946 to 1964, in the US) that (at least for the US) was what really got and kept us out of an economic depression then. (I say ‘so-called baby boom’, because the birth rates then were below those of earlier ‘normal’ periods, like that from 1900 to 1910, for example — and who has ever heard of the ‘baby boom’ of 1900 – 1910?). No, the ‘baby boom’ years are as much, if not even much more defined by the ‘birth dearths’ that both preceded and followed it than by a necessarily extraordinarily high birth rate during the ‘baby boom’ years. Like a long skinny pig in the middle of a boa constrictor’s body, the “pig” looks so big, perhaps more because how skinny the snake otherwise looks both before and after the pig, than by the fatness, per se, of the pig itself)!

    Birthrates in the LDS Church, currently, are at a level between only about 1/3 to as low as 1/5 of what they were just a generation or so ago!!!

    This is a HUGE drop! While women, including young women, are preparing themselves of ‘self-actualization’ (secularist Maslow’s theory of ‘Self Actualization’ as perverted the way of many ‘daughter of Zion’ as much as any ‘daughter of Babylon’ it appears), as young woman after young woman goes to college, then graduate school, and finally to the job market, to ‘fulfill’ their “potential”.

    Apparently earning the almighty dollar (or yen, or Euro, or peso, or what have you) “fulfills” the “potential” of women in the Church these days!?!

    The “Families Forever” theme, long touted in the LDS Church, is turning more and more into “Families For Never”, or something closer to that, than it is to the former. “Multiplying” the earth has become merely “adding”, and that, not nearly so much, as was done up until at least the early 1980’s among many, if not most, “Mormons”. In other words, without converts, the (LDS) Church would be shriveling and dying.

    And, such may yet happen. As the pool of young men (or even young women) available to serve missions in their late teens and/or early twenties has fallen so low, that the constant hue and cry for “more missionaries” becomes unfulfillable because we failed to breed enough of them a couple of decades or so ago!

    Perhaps, like the post 200 AD Nephites spoken of in the Book of Mormon, we are choosing to replace exaltation, perhaps even salvation in the world to come, for filthy lucre in this world!?!

    37 For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.

    38 O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?

    (Book of Mormon | Mormon 8:37 – 38)

    The title to a hymn written by a Young Women’s leader in the early part of the 20th century is this— “Shall the Youth of Zion Falter?” Of course, her emphasis was spiritual. However, as we are taught, with God, ALL things are spiritual.

    In sheer numbers, the youth of Zion have (already) faltered, BIG TIME! As ‘Zion’ (the LDS Church and it’s members) have become ever more like their ‘Babylonian’ (worldly) counterparts, what they REALLY worship, wealth and the praise of this world, has become what they have and are abasing themselves to receive, rather than the “true riches” of eternity.

    In a religion that believes that we can become like God (and goddesses), to form and populate “worlds without end” with Celestial seed in the life here after, we are so ready to quit (if we ever start) with that child producing business as early as we can.

    “Rightousness”, I believe, has as much, if not much more, to do with the “First Commandment” (given by God to manking) than it does with the latter commandments (10 commandments) given to/through Moses for us. And that 1st Commandment? What was it?

    “Be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth”. For, as we learn in ‘modern’ revelation, “there is enough, yea, and to spare”. And, among the ‘great writings’ of THE prophet, Isaiah, we can read these words given him by God, which apply as much to ‘Ephraim’ (the name MEANS ‘fruitful’) as to anyone—

    18 For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited… (Isaiah 45:18)

    Let’s face it, we, like our forebears, have succumbed to worshipping ‘other gods’ which “are not”. Our own traditions have become the “commandments of men” that even “good, church going” latter-day saint fathers and mothers have admonished their own children to do. Get an education. Don’t get married, and/or don’t have children, until you’re done.

    Though Nephi said—

    34 O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.

    (Book of Mormon | 2 Nephi 4:34)

    However, we have put our own trust in “the arm of flesh”. And, more often than not, that arm is OUR OWN!

    • Mraynes says:

      I appreciate the comment, Dave, and I can tell you feel passionately about this subject. However, I feel that we have fundamentally different paradigms and that you’re really not interested learning about and from my experience as an LDS woman. Perhaps I am wrong about this and perhaps it was completely unintentional but I read your comment as condescending and as an indirect question of my faithfulness and diligence-both of which are explicitly against our comment policy. I hope this was unintentional and I realize this is a common trap of internet dialogue. If you are interested in having a constructive conversation on this topic I respectfully suggest you check out this post for an idea of why I interpreted your comment as patronizing:
      I wish you the best!

      • Diane says:


        Thanks for you reply to Dave, I had the same thoughts as you did, especially since he stated that he believes woman are putting their careers first, instead of preparing themselves for motherhood. And as a result are bad for doing so.

        Since when is it not alright for a woman to use her education to provide for herself? Women in this church are taught self reliance, but, then they are told forget about self- and get married than you don’t have to be self reliant anymore. Men do this all the time and they do not get the double speak that Dave provided in his statement to the OP.

    • So should we just ignore the talk from last conference (and general church policy) about family size being between the husband, wife, and God? Should we ignore the mandates for women to get “all the education they can” in favor of being only useful for the 1/3 to 1/2 of their lives they have children at home? What should they do with the rest of their lives? Be fertility coaches for their children til they die?

      Just as it is possible for a single mother to both raise her children and have fulfilling work, mothers (and women in general) can both be mothers, raising their children in the Gospel and looking forward to the future they may have as parents, as well as learning more about this world and doing things they truly enjoy doing. For some that may even be taking care of additional children when they are not caring for their own (like during school).

      The eternities are not constant baby making, but in creating worlds, and we know that all the knowledge we attain in this life will continue with us to the next, adding to our progress toward becoming like our Hevenly Mother and Father.

      I’ll not even go into the need for fathers as part of the equation for making and raising more children, or the compassion for those who, for one reason or another, are not able to have their allotted “replacement rate” of children, or the compassion for parents who struggle to raise the children they have. This sort of browbeating (with statistics, no less, since they always prove a point), just makes me mad.

    • Spunky says:

      This is the funniest thing I have read in ages! Thanks for the laugh!

  1. May 6, 2011

    […] that I could support myself and my kids should my husband pass away I would feel much safer having more children. Specifically because we expect women to be stay at home moms whenever possible, girls and young […]

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