Was polygamy necessary in the 19th century because there were more women than men?

By Eric Johnson

If you speak to some Latter-day Saints regarding the issue of polygamy (the marriage on one man to multiple women), one of the most common arguments still used is pointing out how there were more women than men in the 19th century Utah. If that’s the case, single women needed to have a husband too. Right?  Polygamy to the rescue!

As Mormon pollster Gary Lawrence reports in his 2011 book Mormons Believe What?

Given the persecution of the church, there was an imbalance between men and women, and more women needed to be cared for, especially as the church transplanted itself from Illinois to the Utah desert ( p. 110).

This is simply not true! There were actually more males than females from 1850 through the end of  Mormonism’s doctrine of polygamy for this life. The following citation originates with LDS Apostle John Widtsoe:

The United States census records from 1850 to 1940, and all available Church records, uniformly show a preponderance of males in Utah, and in the Church. Indeed, the excess in Utah has usually been larger than for the whole United States, as would be expected in a pioneer state. The births within the Church obey the usual population law — a slight excess of males. Orson Pratt, writing in 1853 from direct knowledge of Utah conditions, when the excess of females was supposedly the highest, declares against the opinion that females outnumbered the males in Utah. (The Seer, p. 110) The theory that plural marriage was a consequence of a surplus of female Church members fails from lack of evidence (Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 391).

Using Utah census records, one website says that the number of Utah having more males than females should actually go through 1960. In addition, this website reports:

In Utah (1850s to 1890s), the average age of a 2nd wife was 17 (husband average age early 30s) and the average age of a third wife was 19 (husband average age mid to late 30s). The average age in the USA for a first marriage in the late 19th century was about 22. Mormon men in their 30s (or 40s or 50s) married teenagers because of the shortage of Mormon girls for extra wives.

Notice that if the average age of a 2nd wife is 17, then there had to be a lot of girls only 14 or 15 or 16 in order to make the average 17 since there would have been some women in their 20s who became plural wives.

Consider the population of Utah during the second half of the twentieth century:

1850 total 11,380      male 6,046          female 5,334

1860 total 40,273      male 20,255        female 20,018

1870 total 86,786      male 44,121        female 42,665

1880 total 143,963    male 74,509        female 68,454

1890 total 210,779    male 111,975      female 98,804

1900 total 276,749    male 141,687      female 135,062

Mormons such as Gary Lawrence who continue to perpetuate the false rumor that polygamy was a moral practice due to more women than men in Utah need to stop…now.


For more on the issue of polygamy/plural marriage, click here.