Where the Lost Boys Go

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A recurrent criticism cropping up in the discussion on Egan’s New York Times article is that polygamy inevitably creates “Lost Boys.” These are young men that get kicked out of a polygamous community to reduce competition for a resource in short supply –that of marriage partners. One commenter put it this way:

A simple polygamous example involves 6 people:
one man has 3 wives
two men have none

In this model, one man’s gain is another man’s loss. I would like to explore, through some preliminary statistical analysis, why this isn’t an adequate model for 19th century Mormonism, but it may be relevant to contemporary FLDS. I say “may” because I do not have enough data about the FLDS to make a judgment. I can, however, address whether the criticisms lobbied at them apply to 19th century Mormonism.

I can identify a number of modern sensibilities and assumptions underlying the above scenario.

  1. A husband and wife marry close to the same age. On average, a husband is 2.3 years older than his wife.
  2. If you form an age demographic pyramid by stacking blocks each with a length proportional to the population in each age range, then the US pyramid currently looks more like a column (see Table A-1).
  3. Assuming that 1. and 2. persist for some time, it follows that the marriage pool has the same number of men as women, therefore one man’s gain is another’s loss.

We could find a solution to this dilemma using modern statistical numbers. Here is an example that models the current US marriage market that involves 100 men and 100 women selected at random between ages 40 through 44. In that sample you can expect to find 18 men and 13 women that have never married. Now suppose you had a time machine and the ability to arrange consensual plural marriages. You could arrange 7 two-wife arrangements and 3 three-wife arrangements before creating more “lost boys” than the 18 created without your interference. While this example is somewhat contrived, it illustrates a couple of points. First more men choose not to ever marry than do women in their age group. Second, the modern marriage market operates at nowhere near 100% efficiency for marrying off all its females.

The commenter cited above concludes her simple example with “I don’t want to live in a society where 2/3 of the men are unmarried and not invested in community life.” This is ironic because she already lives in a society that is 2/3 of the way there already with 44% of males aged 20-45 being menaces to society.

Of course 19th century Mormonism operated and the FLDS operates at much closer to that 100% efficiency. According to Kathryn Daynes in More Wives than One (p. 93-94), 99% of Manti Mormon women born mid 19th century eventually married while only 89 to 93% of their US peers did. Missionary work brought in a steady supply of converts and emigrants. Daynes showed that spikes in new marriages closely followed incoming waves of newly arriving emigrants. That is one advantage 19th century Mormons had over the FLDS who do not actively proselyte. The 19th century practice seemed to regulate itself after a rough, overzealous start during the Mormon Reformation in 1857. The percentage of polygamists declined with time to meet long term sustainable levels.

There were two other 19th century monogamous strategies (besides increasing efficiency) that were available to alleviate the zero-sum, simplistic example above. The first was to increase the age difference between husbands and wives from 2 to 5 years on average. That doesn’t help by itself; but if each mother raises an average of, say, 8 children (typical for 19th century) instead of less than 2 like they do now days, then the age demographic pyramid will truly be a pyramid instead of a column (or worse considering the baby boom retirees coming up). Let us see how this worked in Utah for marriage market broken down by age from the 1880 census from Ancestry.com.








































Some valuable information can be extracted from this table. For one, it helps bust the myth that polygamy was needed to compensate for Utah having a higher women population than men. Men had higher life expectancies than women, especially on the frontier, and especially considering that many women died in child birth before the advent of modern medicine. Clearly men are not being invited to leave Utah to ease tension in the marriage market, outside of serving temporary missions, of course. The table also helps visualize what happens to unmarried pool for men who married on average 5 years younger than themselves. The most active age ranges for marrying off is the 15-19 range for women who had first pick of men moving into the age where they could comfortably support a wife between.the 20-24 age range for men.

According to L. L. Bean and G. P. Mineau in The Polygyny-Fertility Hypothesis: a Re-evaluation, the polygamists of the birth cohort (1840-1859) most relevant to the 1880 census married a second wife that was, on average.one year younger than a monogamist Mormon’s first wife. This suggest that single men had an advantage in the marriage market over their already married peers. Furthermore, the widening age difference between a polygamist male and his subsequent wives moved reality even further away from the zero-sum example above.

Now I am sure that some of those numbers add fuel to the fire of critics who decry the youth of some of these brides. I have also compared the 1880 census results for Utah and the rest of the nation. The national percentage for married 13-14 year old females was 3-4 times higher than it was for Utah. For age 15 the trend reversed as the nation’s 1.3% compared to Utah’s 2.0% For age 16, Utah was within 50% of the national rate and at age 17 Utah was still less than double the nation. Before anyone makes a big deal of this, the nation’s 1850 teenage marriage rates are higher (at least preliminarily) than Utah’s 1880 rates. Like Seth said (paraphrase), we will apologize for our ancestor’s polygamy when the critics apologize for their ancestor’s monogamy.

So where did the 19th century lost boys go? Perhaps they went to Neverland, as my research has failed to find any evidence of them. For males aged 20-35 leaving Mormonism would have made their prospects for marriage substantially worse.

17 thoughts on “Where the Lost Boys Go

  1. Pingback: The Revisionist Timothy Egan « Messenger and Advocate

  2. Seth R.

    “The national percentage for married 13-14 year old females was 3-4 times higher than it was for Utah.”

    My wife speculated that this was perhaps due to “shotgun weddings” where the guy got a 13 year old pregnant. Something she speculates didn’t happen as often in more morally regulated Utah. I don’t know whether to give that theory much credence. For one thing, it sounds a bit self-congratulatory. But interesting thought.

  3. Keller


    That might be a testable theory.

    For 1880 Utah only 7% of the cases of 15 year old marrieds had children.

    For the nation 22% percent of the 15 year old marrieds females already had a child. However there were slightly more out of wedlock children than from married couples.

    But it is hard to isolate all the factors here. I think I will look into what articles there have been on the propensity of shotgun weddings.

  4. Clark

    Something else to keep in mind was that Mormons, unlike the various fundamentalists for the most part, were prosylatizing. (I know some apostate groups do solicit converts – but simply not in the overt way Mormons do) If there are more female than male converts (which is certainly the case now and I’d suspect then as well) then this would account for a lot.

    One should also note that the polygamy experiment in Utah was fairly short lived. So there simply may not have been the time to end up with inequalities of that sort.

  5. Keller


    Good point about there possibly not being enough time to generate inequalities. I picked 1880 because that is the latest census that provides useful information, but my assumption that polygamy had reached equilibrium at that point may not hold up.

    I can see two different ways of extending this study. One would be to track what is happening to the marriage market in 1860 and 1870 and look for trends versus national and frontier trends. A second would be to create a computer simulation that lets you adjust parameters like fertility rate, marital age stats, age difference stats, female marriage efficiency, life expectancy, polygamist percentage, and rate of integration with converts from the ambient society.

  6. Clark

    One thing to keep in mind when considering time was the huge influx of immigrants I believe after the Civil War. So Utah was still very much in flux when mainstream practice ended in 1894. That was, what, about 14 years since the big influx? And only 40 years since it really was enacted publicly. Two generations and with most of that dealing with big population booms.

  7. TrevorM

    Thanks to FAIR, for its research and hard work. I appreciate studies like this very much!

  8. John Pack Lambert

    It might be worth comparing the percentages of people married at certain ages to the 1881 British census and Scandinavian censuses of the same time period. Swiss Censuses might come into play. Also, if you knew marriage ages of people in Italy, the Austria-Hungary Empire, Germany and Russia it might help explain what is going on.
    If you could isolate the percentage married at certain ages in immigrant groups. Also a comparison of marriage age in England and Ireland. With so many Latter-day Saints being from England, Denmark and other European countries, and with the beganings of Italian, Eastern European Jewish and Polish immigration in 1880 foriegn countries ages at marriage are probably inportant to a full understanding.
    Another thing to look at with converts is that most are probably under age 25, and so the gender ratio does not matter if it means that the younger females are outnumbering the older males they plan to marry.
    One other thing though, we have to remember that by 1880 there were large mining operation in parts of Utah with many non-Mormoms working there. I am not sure if the Greeks had yet flooded into Carbon County, but many outsiders are in Utah, and many of these may be recent arrivals just scraping by in mining jobs, which may explain in part the many unmarried men at all ages.
    There may also be either deliberate denial of former marriages or with a miner there on his own, leaving his family behind in the east or Ireland or whereever, it may also be that the census taker got the info from a neighbor who did not know the guy was or had been married, so there may be complications there.

  9. Keller


    You make some good points. I just discovered an article by Kathryn Daynes that explores this topic further (HT: Jeff Lindsay). Her findings mirror my own and add to them.

    Some interesting quotes:

    Despite the disadvantages of males in the Utah marriage market, an in-depth study of marriage patterns in Manti, Utah, shows that only a small percentage of men failed eventually to marry and that they married at younger ages than men generally in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century.

    It is unclear, though, how many non-Mormon men, such as soldiers, merchants, and miners, were included in each census. Dean May has calculated that non-Mormons accounted for 12 percent of Utah’s population in 1860 and 21 percent in 1880. Because non-Mormon men undoubtedly outnumbered non-Mormon women in nineteenth-century Utah, the preponderance of men, as shown in the census, is unlikely to reflect the sex ratio within the Mormon population.

  10. Keller

    Another interesting quote:

    Moreover, the gap between the proportion of [Manti] men and women who never married (2.9 percent and 2.3 percent respectively) became insignificant in the younger cohort. In any case, the proportions of men and ” women who married was extremely high in comparison to their contemporaries. Over 8 percent of American men and women born ” between 1835 and 1864 remained unmarried, while in northwestern Europe, the former home of many Utahns, about 20 percent remained single.

  11. Keller

    I thought I would add this here so I don’t lose it for future reference. The table below is for female never married percentages. The 2006 numbers for the US are from the census.gov site, the 1880 US numbers are from IPUMS and 1880 UT numbers are summarized from ancestry.com by calculating never marrieds = single/(single+married+divorced+widowed) and removing obvious errors for some of the lower teens.

    Age 2006(US) 1880(US) 1880(UT)
    13-14 — 99.6 99.9
    15-17 98.6 94.8 91.4
    18-19 94.7 78.7 62.5
    20-24 75.3 48.4 26.0
    25-29 43.1 23.2 7.53
    30-34 24.0 14.3 3.09
    35-39 16.7 10.8 1.71

  12. Keller

    Here is the same calculations for males.

    Age 2006(US) 1880(US) 1880 (UT)
    15-19 98.5 98.8 98.6
    20-24 86.7 77.3 70.3
    25-29 57.4 41.1 33.5
    30-34 33.4 23.8 22.7
    35-39 23.3 14.9 17.4

    The only age range that was less married was the 35-39 year olds.

    Further dissection of that age range shows that of the 638 single men, 198 were miners and 46 were soldiers. At that age range 85% of the soldiers in Fort Cameron or Douglas were single and 51% of the miners were. Throwing miners and soldiers out of the sample drops the never married number down to 12.2% which is below the national average.

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  15. Keller


    You might want to see two related posts and comments where I create a list of articles that explore Deseret polygamy statistics. You need an academic subscription to elctronic journal databases to access some of them.



    My research is on going as I would like to address some of the criticism received here. 1) examine the effect of immigration. 2) separate out what the Gentile population in Utah is doing. 3) Present more of a dynamic overview instead of relying so much on an 1880 snapshot.

    I suspect that immigrants were close to a 50-50 male female ratio, but before immigrating/converting were married off at a much less efficient rate and hence had a growth rate smaller than more established Mormon families in Utah. So the short term impact of immigration would be a spike in new marriages, but long term would decrease the growth rate as it would take awhile for offspring from these new unions to become part of the marriage pool.

    Currently I have been analyzing the Mormon Immigration Index to see if I can confirm or deny that working hypothesis.

    If I see more helpful articles I will continue to post them here.

  16. Lind

    I thought you might like to hear from a former “Cricker” (formerly FLDS) who isn’t bitter. I lived in Colorado City and I am female.

    Before Warren Jeffs, girls had a right to say “No” to a marriage arrangement, though there may have been individual families who wouldn’t allow this. I have known of several girls who did refuse those that were chosen for them and were very happy with the final choices.

    Warren Jeffs and some parents kicked boys out for the many rediculous reasons that have been given in the media; this is an unfortunate fact. They were not kicked out to make more girls available for older men; this is fiction. Jeffs wanted to have a perfect people and he wanted the glory. Sound familiar?

    Not everyone out there has more than one wife. Less than half do. Some older men aren’t even married.

    Most of the marriages I have seen have been young couples. You need to understand that this pertains to marriages before Warren Jeffs took over. We left shortly after he took control of the group.

    Warren Jeffs took the basic principles of the Gospel and turned them “upside down.”

    There are many wonderful people in Hildale and Colorado City. There are a few people who are not very good.

    If you have any questions, I will be glad to answer them if I know the answers. I will not ,however, even acknowledge anyone who makes ignorant remarks. I have never lived polygamy, but I have seen many good examples of how it can work. I have also seen a few bad ones.

  17. Keller

    Thanks Lind, for giving some insight to FLDS practices. I wish I had some statistical numbers to compare with 19th century polygamy. However, I don’t get the impression that Jeffs wants to open up church records for academic research any time soon. Theoretically, the strategies that I outline could make plural marriage work without stopping any male who wanted to marry from having a competitive chance to do so. But I do not know how feasible it is for FLDS to do something similar.

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