Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mormons and STDs

A funny thing happened while studying one topic.  I found that the variables I was using predict the level of STDs by state.  The variables are the percentage of women married, the percentage of highly religious as measured by a Gallup poll, the number of Mormons as a percentage of the state population (percentage Mormon), the percentage of males between 15 and 34, and the percentage with at least a high school education.  The statistical results are at the bottom of the post.  The variables explained 79.3 percent of the variation in the data and was significant at the 0.0 percent level.  Only the variable measuring the percentage of the population with at least a high school education was not statistically significant at the 10% level or better.  The remaining variables were significant at the 0.0 percent level.  More interesting than knowing variables that were statistically significant was knowing their sign.  They show that values important to Mormons result in lower levels of STDs. 

Care must be taken not to commit the ecological fallacy, drawing conclusions about individual behavior from group level data.  For example, in a given state, as the number of Mormons as a percentage of the state’s population climbs, the number of STDs per 100,000 falls.  This does not imply that Mormons are less likely to contract STDs in a particular state than any other person.  It is possible that high percentages of Mormons in a state influences the actions of non-Mormons in a way that lowers their level of STDs.  Although this process might exist, the fact that the number of STDs falls as the percentage of Mormons increases probably puts the burden of proof on those who believe that Mormon teachings about proper sexual behavior do not influence their sexual behaviors.   

The Church teaches that sexual intercourse is only appropriate between a married man and woman.  As the percentage of married women in a state falls, the number of STDs per climbs, implying that higher levels of marriage reduces STDs in a state and suggest that married individuals are less likely to be infected.  I spent more time searching for individual level data than I would like to admit but with little success.  Well, I did find one graph that found that married people had lower levels of STDs than people who were divorced and remarried, divorced or separated and always single.  The graph is found here and referenced below. 

The studies I found on factors contributing toward higher levels of STDs focused on race and not the marital status.  When I entered state level data on three racial groups into my model, the statistical significance of the percent of women married fell slightly although it remained significant at the 0.0 percent level but none of the variables on race were statistically significant.  I next left the variables on race but deleted the variable on the percentage of women married.  Two of the three variables on race remained statistically insignificant while the third became significant at the 10% level.  For my data, the percentage of women married explains STDs at the state level better than the race.

States with high levels of men aged 15-34 have higher levels of STDs and suggests that this might be true of individuals.  That young men may have higher levels of STDs is not an interesting finding.

States with more highly religious people as measured by a Gallup survey on religiosity experience higher rates of STDs than states with fewer highly religious people suggesting that highly religious people have higher levels of STDs. This leads back to the repressed sexual desires hypothesis that some use to claim that Mormon teachings on sexual abstinence before marriage are harmful but now it is the highly religious people of all types that are sexually repressed and not just Mormons.  I don’t buy this argument.  Again, I searched the Internet and what I found suggest that religiosity, at least among black adolescent women, reduces the rates of contraction of STDs (McCree DH et al., 2003).  I am left with a puzzle.  Why would high level of religiosity in a state cause STDs to rise and high levels of Mormons cause them to fall?

References

Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  “2012 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Surveillance,” Tables 3, 13 and 26. 

Mapping America 129: 'Has Ever Had an STD' by Current Religious Attendance and Marital Status

McCree DH et al., “Religiosity and risky sexual behavior in African-American adolescent females,” Journal of Adolescent Health, 2003, 33(1):2-8.

Statistical Summary

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