Johnson, an emeritus professor of business history at BYU, and his wife, Marian, are co-directors of the Outmigration Project, which gathered more than 600 interviews with Mormons living across the country. He spoke on Nov. 5 at the 10th annual Mormon Studies Conference at Utah Valley University. The conference theme this year was "Outmigration and the Mormon Quest for Education."
After 1900, according to Johnson, young Mormons began to leave the Mormon corridor in the West to seek better jobs and higher education in a variety of larger American cities. They joined other Americans who were searching for a better way of life.
By 2000, about three-quarters of the 6 million Mormons in the United States were living in large urban areas in the United States. It was similar to the spread of Jewish people across the country. The key for both similarly sized groups was, according to Johnson, a belief that "education was the passport to success and prestige."
This outmigration of mainly white-collar workers led to greater assimilation into the larger society. "Yet, on the other hand, they brought with them, part and parcel, their peculiar religion," Johnson said. "These traveling Mormons continued to cling to their own religious world and culture while fully embracing urban and suburban American society, jobs, schools, institutions and, most important, values."