Are Mormons to blame for Utah’s chart-topping bankruptcy rates? If this query makes readers feel uncomfortable, we think it should. There is something disturbing about applying certain traits that appear to lead to bankruptcy to a whole religious group. Admittedly, Mormonism is more demographically and geographically diverse, and Utah’s bankruptcy dilemma more complex, than suggested by this question. Yet this question lurks in much of the discussion, among Mormons and non-Mormons alike, regarding Utah’s incredibly high bankruptcy rate. Still more disturbing is the readiness to attempt to answer the “Mormon question” without asking it openly. For years, researchers and pundits indirectly addressed this question by using other characteristics unique to Utah as proxies for religious adherence in an effort to address the question everyone is asking: Are Mormons bankrupting Utah? Unlike previous research regarding Utah’s bankruptcy rate, this study openly asks whether Mormons are the driving force behind Utah’s bankruptcy rate.
With the increase in bankruptcy rates in the past decade, the question of who files for bankruptcy and why has become much more pressing. Even before the extraordinary run up in bankruptcy filings in advance of changes in the law in 2005, each year about one in every seventy-six families in the United States headed to the bankruptcy courts. Evidence suggests that these families were solidly middle class, and not some distant, chronically-poor segment of society. Recent studies point to the increase in bankruptcies among families with children, the well educated, and home owners. Utah possesses these middle class characteristics as much as anywhere in the United States, with its large families, cultural emphasis on education, and church-going population. Sadly, nowhere in the country is bankruptcy a bigger social problem than in Utah. . . .