Our take: While a trail laced with persecution and trials initially led early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Salt Lake City, success, education and ambition are now the defining characteristics of Mormons in this area, according to City Journal Contributing Editor Joel Kotkin. In this article for the quarterly magazine, Kotkin looks at the career opportunities, housing prices and social atmosphere in Utah, where 60 percent of residents belong to the LDS Church.
Whether or not Mitt Romney makes it to the White House, his candidacy signals that Mormons have arrived in American political life. Just as President Obama’s nomination and election marked a sea change in the country’s tortured racial history, so Romney’s nomination has changed religious boundaries that have persisted for more than 160 years. No religious group has been more persecuted by the U.S. government, or more derided by other faiths present in the country, than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or the LDS Church, as many Mormons refer to it). Indeed, it was to seek a secure home to practice their heterodox beliefs, including polygamy, that Mormons moved from upstate New York to Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and finally the Salt Lake Valley in present-day Utah. Led by the irrepressible organizer Brigham Young, the Mormons did more than settle open land. They created a unique blend of communalism and capitalism, industriousness and religious faith, that withstood threats from Native Americans and, later, from the U.S. Army.
Today, some religious fundamentalists continue to rail against Mormons, while coastal sophisticates scoff at their earnest approach to life, religion, and family. Yet the methodical Mormon way, which stresses education, ambition, and charitable giving, has succeeded in ways equaled by few religious groups. Mormons enjoy levels of education and wealth higher than the national average, for example. Some 54 percent of LDS men and 44 percent of women have secured postsecondary education; the numbers for the general American population are 37 percent and 28 percent, respectively. Mormons also enjoy the nation’s highest rate of charitable giving.
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