February 19, 2010

Clarify me #2

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:30 pm

Because I am obsessive and can’t let things drop (I do parties, call now!), I’m going to take a third attempt at the Mormon/happiness issue.  In addition to the clarification below, here is a map showing Mormon density in 2000 (likely to be similar today).  I’ve also selected the data set which most Mormons who blog (which makes it true!) believe validates the idea that Mormonism has a causal relationship to happiness (well being data).

List format of well-being ranks:

1. Utah: 69.2
2. Hawaii: 68.2
3. Wyoming: 68
4. Colorado: 67.3
5. Minnesota: 67.3
6. Maryland: 67.1
7. Washington: 67.1
8. Massachusetts: 67
9. California: 67
10. Arizona: 66.8
11. Idaho: 66.8

The general reaction to this data tended to be: ZOMG!!!!1!! this shows that Mormons are mega happy! =) =)  The Church is trooooh!!!!

This annoys and astonishes me because this data certainly does not do that.  To prove the association between the presence of Mormonism and happiness, the level of happiness would have to have be related to the level of Mormonism!  Clearly that is not the case.  To walk through that with clarity, let’s assume this isn’t about Mormonism at all.  Let’s substitute niffleberry polen for Mormonism, and the growth of Apples as happiness.

When we consider Utah, it is very dense in niffleberry pollen and Apples.  However, Minnesota, Maryland, Washington, Massachusetts and California have nearly no niffleberry pollen and are producing Apples at very near the rate of Utah.  Further, areas with somewhat high densities of niffleberry pollen are producing apples at lower levels than the states with very high niffleberry pollen (Utah = pollen and lots of Apples, Idaho= pollen and lower Apples).

Clearly, the presence of niffleberry pollen does not correlate to apple production.

Just to make it a tiny bit more complex (and more robust), let’s overlay with population densities.  This is needed because even though given areas are Mormon dense, they might not be people dense enough to make the population view at the aggregate, state-wide level meaningful (there might not be enough Mormons to weight the average (Colorado for example)).  Once that is done, I note that Idaho appears to have the largest number of both highly Mormon and highly populated areas.  When we look at the data we would expect to see Idaho quite high, if Mormonism predicted happiness.  That is not the case.  Idaho gets the pants beat off it by states that are not remotely Mormon at all.

If I had the actual data, as opposed to graphs, I could do a more robust job, but I think you folks are already getting tired of this…

What this data shows is that people in Utah are happy, and that people in Utah also tend to be Mormon, but being Mormon is not a predictor of happiness in the dataset at all.  I have not seen a single model which can correlate the presence of Mormonism to any known direct or proxy variable for happiness. I have seen many models which to a greater or lesser degree, show that the impact of Mormonism on happiness at the macro-social is completely eclipsed by other variables (education, money, sleep, genetics, etc. etc.).  In fact, the data is actually quite solid as to what variables promote happiness, and Mormonism isn’t one of them.

Did I make my case?

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  1. Love the maps, which I think you did a good job explaining. Oh, and where exactly can I get some of that niffleberry polen?

    Comment by mary ann — February 19, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

  2. Are you using Gallup’s WBI? I think CNBC just said that Hawaii beat out Utah for happiest state according to Gallup.

    But. Well-being data is notoriously unreliable when you try to use it to predict anything. For example, you’d expect Utah to have fairly few admissions to the ER for self-inflicted injurious, but I’m pretty sure they’re in the top 10.

    I tend to think this whole line of reasoning is flawed, but if you were to go with it, I would say that being Mormon tends to put you in a higher SE class, which helps you score better on the happiness indices… (Some of the items generally found in well-being scales are access to healthcare, frequent vacations, etc.) How many minorities are there in the Mormon church? Also, in most of these WBIs, you tend to score higher when you endorse items that Mormons are more likely to endorse (regular church attendance, not smoking, etc.). The WBIs are a bit skewed toward the Mormon lifestyle. Does not smoking, for example, make you a happier person? If you’re younger, it’s not really a provable factor. If you’re 80 and suffering from the results of having smoked your entire life, probably so.

    I’m stopping myself now because I know this isn’t your point. But a well-being index really and truly is no predictor of happiness, regardless of religion.

    Comment by Cris — February 19, 2010 @ 3:20 pm

  3. I take this comment back, having just read your last posting. (I refreshed the page and didn’t see your post below because you’re posting a dozen times a day now — which is awesome, by the way, now that I’m stuck on the couch away from germs associated with human contact, and my kid is going through a growth spurt which apparently requires her to sleep all day instead of entertaining me.)

    Anyway… yeah. Nevermind. :)

    Comment by Cris — February 19, 2010 @ 3:39 pm

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