“This is the Path You Go On:” A Qualitative Study of Mormon Religiosity and Female Member Educational Attainment
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Utah consistently ranks poorly in measures of gender equity in the United States. For example, 30% of women in Utah County, Utah begin a college education, but do not finish their degree. Of interest, Utah County also has a high density of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the United States (LDS, Mormon). The LDS Church is a conservative, traditional faith which emphasizes traditional gender roles and the importance of motherhood. This high density of members of the LDS Church could indicate a relationship between LDS religiosity and lowered educational attainment. This phenomenological qualitative thesis analyzes how female members of the Church interpret church doctrine regarding education and motherhood and subsequently make decisions about higher education. Methods: Using purposive criterion and extreme sampling strategies, the primary researcher conducted in-depth, semi-structured qualitative interviews with n=10 current LDS-member women and n=10 previous LDS-member women (N=20). Results: Thematic, phenomenological analysis resulted in the identification of several themes regarding education, the value of motherhood, the perceived differences between culture and doctrine of the Church, and how ambiguous doctrine generates confusion about decision making. Themes included: 1) Mormon women highly valued education, 2) Motherhood was a higher priority than education, and 3) due to the emphasis placed on the divine role of motherhood within Mormonism, Mormon women felt pressured to choose between education and motherhood. These findings suggest that LDS church doctrine may highly influence female members when making decisions regarding their education and divine role as mothers. To positively impact gender equity amongst members of the Church, focusing on how doctrine emphasizes education and continual learning could encourage female members to pursue (and complete) their higher education.