Friday, August 16, 2013

A Model of Variables Affecting Missionaries Set Apart



Many years have passed since I have last attempted a serious piece of econometric analysis and my skills are rusty, but with some effort, probably not enough, I have developed a model that measures the degree of influence of several variables on the number of young men and women who are set apart as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints annually.  The variables included war, recession, enrollment in seminary, and changes in missionary policy (see list below the post).  I used nothing more than simple ordinary least squares.  The model is not elegant, but it seemed to fit the data adequately.  For those interested, all the coefficients were significant at the 5% level or above and the adjusted R squared was .99.  I will use the model to attempt to answer two questions: what variables caused the reduction in missionaries set apart after the 2002 peak? and how many missionaries will be set apart as a result of lowering the age requirement for missionary service?

The graph displays the data from 1968 through 2010; earlier data is not displayed to visually focus on the time period more relevant to the two questions being answered.  The blue and red segmented line is the number of missionaries set apart, the blue representing periods of peace and the red, war.  The gray rectangles show recessions, and the black, vertical lines represent policy announcements concerning the missionary program.  These variables influence the predicted number of missionaries which is shown as the green line. 

Between 2002 and 2003, the number of missionaries set apart fell from an all-time high of 36,196 to 30,467 and remained in the lower range until 2012 when they began to grow again.  Many have suggested that raising worthiness standard was the cause for the decline.  Others suggested that a demographic shift, the lowering of the number of births, beginning in about 1983 resulted in fewer potential missionaries today.  As an economist, I suggested that economic conditions and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also might have contributed to the decline.  In order of importance, my data suggests that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were responsible for 51.22% of the decline in the number of missionaries set apart, raising the worthiness bar accounted for another 40.97% and two years of declining seminary enrollment, the remaining 7.81%. 

My model forecasts that the Church will set apart 44,967 missionaries in 2013 and 45,318 the following year.  Many observers feel the change will prompt a higher percentage of youth to serve.  I agree but I could not isolate a variable measuring the impact of lowering the age of service on the likelihood that a person will serve.  In 1961, the Church did lower the age of service from 20 year-old to 19 for young men and from 23 to 21 for young women but the announcement was made at virtually the same time as another emphasizing the importance of worthiness when calling missionaries.  Statistically, the are not separable. 

Much remains to be accomplished.  The seminary variable could be improved.  I assume that high income makes service easier.  I might be able to divide seminary students into two or three income categories based on the seminary enrollment by country.  I will attempt to improve the functional form of my regressions.  I tried a simple semilog model but with worse results than those I currently use.  The statistical significance of some of the variables was affected by adding for dropping others.  Using different proxies for war or economic wellbeing might help.  I will certainly listen to suggestions by readers. 

Major Announcements on Missionary Service

19 January 1937 – Length of service: Elders in English-speaking missions serve for two years; Elders in foreign-speaking lands for two and a half years; Sisters for eighteen to twenty-two months

21 September 1948 – Age limits: temporary exception for the age of lady missionaries is to be twenty-one years (the preferred age was twenty-three years).

27 September 1950 – Age limits: men should be twenty years of age unless they have two years of college or military service, in which event the age required is waived.

15 June 1960 – Moral worthiness stressed

28 June 1960 – Age limits: young men may be nineteen if he has completed two years of college or one year of college with six months military service. Lady missionaries may be twenty-one years of age (for office duty). Length of service: older couples may stay as long as two years; however, they are called initially for only six months.

21 July and 26 August 1960 – Age limits: young men may be nineteen even though they do not meet previous educational and military qualifications.

13 November 1973 – Age limits: recommendations may be made for local young men in foreign countries to serve at the age of eighteen.

April 1974 – President Spencer W, Kimball declares that every worthy young man should serve a mission.

27 April 1982 – Length of service: young men will serve for eighteen months.

26 November 1984 – Length of service: young men will serve for twenty-four months.

20 November 1990 – Equalize cost for missionaries called from US or Canada to be effective 1 January 1991.

8 February 1991 – Equalize cost for missionaries called from areas outside the US and Canada to be effective 1 March 1991.

6 October 2002 – Worthiness standards for missionaries raised.

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