Census snapshot: Utahns again a ‘peculiar people’
Unique • Utah ranks No. 1 for family size, marriages, stay-at-home moms.
Published: September 19, 2013 12:54PM
Updated: September 20, 2013 06:05PM

The U.S. Census released a mountain of data Thursday that serves as a snapshot of America in 2012. Utahns again stand out as a “peculiar people,” a biblical phrase for followers of God that Mormons sometimes use with pride to suggest their practices make them different in good ways.

The annual American Community Survey shows Utah again has the nation’s biggest families, most households headed by married couples, youngest ages at first marriage, highest birth rates and most families where at least one parent stays home with young children.

The new data also includes statistics that seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. That includes one of the nation’s highest divorce rates, a high wage gap between men and women (see accompanying story), fewer Spanish speakers and foreign-born residents than hot immigration debates may suggest, and perhaps better commutes than drivers would believe.

Following is a look at some key areas:

Families • Utah has the nation’s largest average household size, 3.14 people compared to a national average of 2.64. It is top in the percentage of households headed by married couples, 60.6 compared to a national average of 48.1. It is No. 1 in households with at least one child under age 18, 42.2 percent compared to a national average of 32.4 percent.

It also has the nation’s youngest average age at marriage — 24.1 for women, and 26.2 for men. That is about three years younger than average for both.

Utah has the highest rate of women ages 15-50 who gave brith in the past year, 77 per 1,000. The national average is 55. Utah also has the lowest percentage of children under age 6 where all parents are working, 51.8 percent compared to a national average of 64.9 percent.

Pam Perlich, senior research economist at the University of Utah, has often said such data result from the Mormon culture, reinforced by immigrants from cultures that also value larger families and marry young. However, she says Utah is slowly becoming more like the rest of the country.

Divorce • It may surprise some Utahns that Utah ranks No. 4 in the divorce rate for women — 14.2 per 1,000 in the past year.

However, Nick Wolfinger a University of Utah professor of family and consumer studies, has said such data is a bit deceptive. Utah will always appear high in such rates per woman because it starts out with more marriages, he said, and more marriages mean more divorces. Other data show Utah has a higher-than-average rate of marriages that do not end in divorce.

Immigration • Despite hot immigration debates, Utah has fewer Latinos and other minorities than average. The percentage of Utahns who are white, non-Latinos is 79.8 — much higher than the national average of 62.8. Utah ranks 18th highest in that category.

Also, 8.4 percent of Utahns are foreign-born, much lower than the national average of 13 percent.

And 14.7 percent of Utah residents report speaking a language other than English at home, well below the national average of 21 percent.

And only 5.3 percent of Utahns report speaking English less than “very well,” also well below the national average of 8.5 percent.

Commute • Finally, Utahns enjoy easier commutes than most Americans, even though it may be hard to believe in peak drive time. The mean travel time to work for Utahns is 22.0 minutes, or 3.7 minutes faster than average. Data show 37 other states have slower commutes.

Despite recent big rail construction projects by the Utah Transit Authority, data show only 2.5 percent of Utahns use public transportation — exactly half the national average. Data say 75.7 percent of Utahns drive by themselves to work in single-occupant cars, a bit below the national average of 76.3 percent.