Salt Lake: a Sinful City? Professor Willoughby Weighs In

It may come as a surprise that the big city to the north of us—Salt Lake City—ranked second most vain and third angriest on a recent measure of the most sinful cities in America, as measured by the financial tools website WalletHub. Its survey compared the 150 most populated cities across seven definitions of vice: anger and hatred, jealousy, excesses and vices, avarice, lust, vanity, and laziness. One of our closest municipal neighbors also ranked fourteenth out of 150 on measurements of jealousy,  but almost last on the rankings of avarice, excesses and vice, lust, and laziness. Brian Willougby, one of our School of Family Life associate professors, encouraged a positive perspective of the results: “Believe in the greater good of humanity,” he said, as part of a panel of five academic experts speaking on the relationship of sinful behavior to surroundings. “Explore how this might be resolved at the individual, couple, family, or even community level.”

Salt Lake has the second highest number of beauty salons, tanning salons, and plastic surgeons per capita, behind only Scottsdale, Arizona. Based on violent crime and sex offenders per capita numbers, as well as bullying and suicide rates, Salt Lake ranks third behind Detroit, Michigan and St. Louis, Missouri. And, if thefts, identity thefts, and fraud cases per capita are accurate measurements of jealousy, then the city ranks fourteenth. Although these findings are disturbing, and illuminate, perhaps, serious problems that need to be or are being addressed, they may be balanced, to a certain extent, by its rankings as

  • 115th in numbers related to excesses and vice, as measured by percentages of adults who are obese and/or who smoke, prevalences of binge or heavy drinking among adults, drug-overdose deaths per 100,000 residents, and debt-to-income ratios.
  • 147th in number of casinos per capita, percentages of residents with gambling disorders, and charitable donations as percentages of income
  • 114th in number of Ashley Madison users, adult entertainment establishments per capita, teen birth rates per 1,000 female residents aged 15 to 19, and number of active Tinder users.
  • 145th in volunteer rates, average daily time spent watching TV, high school drop out rates, mean hours worked, and percentage of adults who do not exercise

Indeed, WalletHub reports that, with all of those rankings taken into consideration, Salt Lake ranks 24th in the list of most sinful cities. But, says Willoughby, “it’s important to define what ‘sinful’ means. Taken outside of a strictly religious context, we generally refer to sinful behavior as…that [which falls] outside of the normative or moral code within our society. With that definition in mind, is sinful behavior innate or influenced by surroundings? The answer, as is often the case, is a bit of both.”

With regards to whether government should play a role in trying to reduce vices such as greed and consumerism, he says: “[That’s a] very loaded question. I think rational people will likely always debate whether specific governmental policies should intervene with an individual’s personal freedom to make their own decisions…. However, I do believe that any healthy culture and country will hopefully be one where a government is concerned about the collective good…of its citizens.” That being said, he also encourages personal responsibility in the resolution of vices such as addiction and domestic violence: “One of the first things people can do to help combat addiction, domestic violence, or any other major life stresses,” he says, “is to seek out the resources around you. Research suggests that any hardship can be generally overcome with the right resources and attitude, [belief] in the power of resiliency in your own life, and work toward that goal.”






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