October 08, 2012

18 going on 19

The first thing that struck me about the church's lowering of missionary eligibility to 18 for men and 19 for woman (from 19 and 21) is that it's an exact reversal of the "quality not quantity" push from a decade ago (to say nothing of the even earlier 18 month scheme).

This move is expected to kick up the quantities big time. Purely in marketing terms, a "flood the zone approach" is probably the most effective, though I have to wonder where more missionaries would make that big of a difference. What zones need to be flooded?

In places like Japan, the missionary presence has collapsed over the past two decades. Back during the Tokyo South heyday, "flooding the zone" raked in big returns until whole thing burst like Japan's real estate bubble, and long-term activity flattened to single digits.

It could well be that the church is finally getting into China and needs to be able to crank up the numbers quick. Though the church has been on the verge of getting into China for the last forty years.

More likely that Romney's coattails are proving long and wide indeed, and the church plans on riding them well past the election. Though the Hawthorne effect suggests that recruitment (on both sides of the equation) will regress to the mean once the novelty wears off.

A pragmatic and publicly-stated explanation, especially for men, is that it's an effort to rationalize the U.S. missionary system with existing exemptions for non-U.S. institutions that don't accommodate a two-year sabbatical in the middle of college or military service.

For the sake of simplicity, why not just rationalize it for women as well? Perhaps that's a tiny attempt to keep missions from turning into massive gĂ´kon (group dating) outings.

Making missions more amenable to matchmaking will do more for long-term church growth than proselyting, though it's bound to produce the inevitable moral fallout (randy missionaries not waiting to start hooking up). An acceptable operational cost, I suppose.

I definitely foresee a big demographic impact on the BYU matrimonial scene. Mormon sociologists should start collecting data now.

Though I wouldn't be surprised if the church did a study and discovered that 18 year old boys were slightly more pliable and less jerkish than 19 year olds. Because (and I speak from personal experience, not excluding myself) being jerks is one thing 19 year olds excel at.

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# posted by Anonymous Dan
10/08/2012 5:39 PM   

Based on conversations with Maggie and other friends who have daughters at BYU this change will have a much greater impact on LDS females than on LDS males.

The change should cause an initial bump in male missionaries, followed by a dip and eventually a return to the long-term trend.

The story is different for female missionaries. A much greater percentage will consider missions and this increase will persist.

Double the percentage of female missionaries from 20 percent to 40 percent and you not only change the dynamic of mission organization but you change the sociology of BYU and the LDS dating scene.

As you say, now is the time for LDS sociologists to start forming their null hypothesis.
# posted by Blogger Joe
10/08/2012 6:23 PM   
Get them while they're young. Considering the tiny percentage of males that go to a church sponsored college, that year between high school and mission is a killer.

On the other hand, this pretty much destroys a guy's chance for scholarships at top schools. It's much easier to be accepted, go a year and take a break.

All that said, I do think this was mostly about lowering the age of females while maintaining an age difference matters. Problem is that 19-year-old females are about as mature as 19-year-old guys. I'd put even odds that this thing goes away with Monson, similar to how 18-month missions met a quiet death (18-month missions saved my mind.)