Current Research: April 2016

A high rate of suicide in states with significant Mormon populations has led researchers to speculate that there may be a connection between Mormon attitudes about homosexuality and such a phenomenon. There have been anecdotal claims that the Latter Day Saints’ strict teachings against homosexuality could have a role in suicidal behavior, but in the independent Mormon blog Rational Faiths (March 9), researcher Benjamin Knoll presents a statistical analysis of suicide rates among Mormons and possible factors relating to these deaths. Knoll finds that in 2014, a higher proportion of Mormons in a state was associated with a higher level of suicide among those age 15-19 in that state. This association did not exist in 2009, the first year available in the data on suicidal behavior from the Centers for Disease Control. It has been the 2010-2015 period when Mormons were most active in opposition to gay rights, such as same-sex marriage.

The researcher finds that even after controlling for a host of demographic factors, such as serious mental illness, the high rate of American Indian youth suicide in these states, state density, and gun ownership, the proportion of Mormons in a state is associated with higher levels of youth suicide. Mormon prevalence in U.S. states doubles youth suicide rates in a similar way that gun ownership quadruples them. But Knoll acknowledges that his findings do not necessarily imply a direct link between being Mormon and suicide, especially since the CDC does not report the sexual orientation of those committing suicide. Critics of Knoll’s research point out that non-Mormon Oregon in this region had a higher youth suicide rate than the high Mormon population states.

(Rational Faiths,


A recent survey reports that only about half of Italians consider themselves Catholic. Published in the Italian newspaper L’Unita (March 29), the findings, based on a survey of 1,500, throw into question the idea that Italy is a “Catholic” country. The Italian web site ADN Kronos (March 29) reports that aside from the 50 percent identifying themselves as Catholic, 13 percent called themselves “Christian,” according to the the poll conducted by the Italian research firm SWG. Four percent said they were Orthodox or Protestant, two percent Buddhist, one percent Jewish, and another one percent Muslim. An unexpected 20 percent said they were atheists.

(ADN Kronos (in Italian):


Declines in religious belief and practice in Europe has led more strongly to the growth of values related to personal autonomy and individualism rather than on matters concerning self interest, such as lying and cheating, according to a study in the journal Politics and Religion (March). Ingrid Storm of the University of Manchester analyzed attitudes of personal autonomy and self-interest in four waves of the European Values Study from 1981–2008. She found that values associated with contested (especially in Europe) issues of personal autonomy, such as abortion, euthanasia, and homosexuality, fell at both the individual and country levels of decline of religiosity. But there was only a small negative association with the second factor concerning self-interest, including cheating, lying, and stealing, contrasted with social norms and laws. The changes in autonomy values were due more to cohort change than self-interest values, which appear to decline over the life course as people age but do not show much change over time from one cohort to the next. But Storm finds that individual religiosity has stronger negative associations with both values of autonomy and self-interest in countries with high levels of average religiosity and in societies where confidence in public authorities is low. The latter pattern may indicate that the social and moral influence of religiosity may be less important when secular authorities are perceived to be effective and trustworthy.

(Politics and Religion,