Mormon Gender Issues Survey Snowballs On Social Media

Nov 20, 2014

Along with the quizzes about which states you’ve visited and which Disney character is your spirit animal, another online survey has been spreading like wildfire across Facebook pages in Utah—the Mormon Gender Issues Survey.

Unlike other online quizzes, the gender issues survey has the backing of researchers from universities across the nation, who plan to publish the survey findings.

“The study began because I read the news and because I’m interested in religion, that is what most of my research is in,” said Michael Nielsen, a professor of psychology at Georgia Southern University and instigator of the study. “In the world of religion, generally, the roles that women play has been a big issue—we see it in Catholicism and the Southern Baptist Convention, and now it is very prominent in Mormonism—and there is really not a whole lot of data regarding what people think about women’s roles in the LDS church.”

Nielsen, a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wanted to see how people’s opinions on gender roles in the church are formed.

“I’m curious to see how the Mormon experience compares with the experience of my Southern Baptist neighbors here. Things like that are a really interesting questions,” Nielsen said.

"I've collected more data in a couple days than I will, probably, the rest of my life and the years before as well," Nielsen said.

He and his colleagues, all but one of whom are also LDS, developed two surveys to look into these somewhat politicized issues in the Mormon culture. They also wanted to understand if online surveys can be good science.

The first survey, which was released the second week of November, is traditional by social science standards. The researchers paid a company, using a Kickstarter campaign, to give a shortened version of the online survey to 500 participants determined to be a representative sample of LDS people.

The second survey, the one popping up on your Facebook feed or showing up in blog posts, is what Nielsen calls a snowball sample—where people share a survey via social media. While some scientists frown upon online sampling, Nielsen said that with enough participation it could be a cheaper means of getting the same results.

“One of the challenges when you have a snowball sample is that if you tell your friends and they tell their friends, there tends to be a good bit of homogeneity among all those people. So, you might have a large number, but really it’s not a very useful number,” Nielsen said. “If you do the snowball long enough there is some research that indicates that after that third or fourth or fifth wave, that snowball sample begins to show the same kinds of characteristics as the random sample.”

When he set out with the project, Nielsen was hoping for a few thousand responses. So far his team has received tens of thousands of responses.

“I’ve collected more data in a couple days than I will, probably, the rest of my life and the years before as well,” Nielsen said.

With so many responses comes a lot of feedback, and not all of it has been positive. The wording of some of the questions and answers have led some survey takers to comment, questioning the team’s knowledge of LDS culture.

Nielsen said he thinks these responses come from people who are not familiar with social science surveys. He says he doesn’t have a hidden agenda.

“I really don’t have any nefarious aims in doing this survey; this is what I do for a living when I’m not busy just being an administrator. It’s fascinating to understand or to try to understand where people are coming from and how they think the way they do, and what kinds of processes might be behind that,” Nielsen said.

To learn more, visit the Mormon Gender Issues Study survey site