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Census snapshot: Utah's culture makes it stand out

Published September 20, 2012 9:12 am

Young, white and married with children, state slowly changing to look more like the U.S.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In its annual statistical snapshot of Utah, the U.S. Census Bureau reports the state still has the nation's youngest population, the most households consisting of married couples with children, most stay-at home moms, second-highest fertility rate and racially is overwhelmingly white.

But it also shows that Utahns are slowly becoming more like the rest of the nation. Residents' median age rose slightly over the past year, the percentage of married couples and children shrank a bit, the fertility rate declined, stay-at-home moms decreased and the population became more diverse.

"We'll never be the same as the nation because of the cultural differences here," says Pam Perlich, a senior research economist at the University of Utah. "We are and will be for the foreseeable future the heart of the Mormon culture region."

She said the changing face of Utah may be lagging national trends "by a couple of generations."

That culture and the high value it places on children, marriage and families is why Utah ranks nationally at the top or bottom of many categories, even as Utah is trending toward the rest of the nation.

For example, with all the children in Utah, the 2011 American Community Survey by the census, released Thursday, shows that Utah's median age is the country's youngest at 29.6. That is up a bit from 29.2 last year, but still way below the national average of 37.3.

Data show that 30.2 percent of Utah households are married couples with children. While still the highest in the nation, it dropped a bit from 31.9 in 2010.

The percentage of children who have both parents in the workforce was 51.7 in 2011, the lowest in the nation. But it was up from 50.6 in 2010.

Utah's fertility rate — which for years was highest in the nation — in recent years has dropped to No. 2 behind Idaho.

The new data say 73 of 1,000 women of child-bearing age in Utah gave birth in the year. That is down from 78 per 1,000 in 2010.

And, finally, 79.9 percent of Utahns are non-Latino whites. That edged down from 80.4 percent in 2010.

The following is a look at some other findings in the new data.

Wages/poverty • Utahns are making less money, and poverty is up. Those findings are consistent with separate Current Population Survey data released by the census last week.

Median Utah household income decreased by 0.6 percent from 2010 to 2011, from $56,227 to $55,869. Utah's poverty rate increased from 13.2 percent to 13.5 percent during the same time.

"We still have a long road to recovery. The recession dug a deep hole," Perlich said.

A bright spot, however, may be in the Ogden-Clearfield metro area — which had the third lowest poverty rate at 10.1 percent among the nation's large metro areas.

"It's because of the secure employment there at Hill Air Force Base and the relatively higher wages of the federal government employees. The defense sector has been protected in this recession" by government spending, Perlich said.

Diversity • While four of five Utahns are still non-Latino whites, it won't be that way for long.

"One of every four preschool-age kids is a minority. In Salt Lake County, it's one out of three. Nationwide it's 49 percent. In Salt Lake City, it's 50 percent. And if you look at Salt Lake City's river district, it's approaching 80 percent," Perlich said.

"When the old baby boomers begin dying off, they will be replaced by this much more diverse and multicultural and multilingual and multiethnic demographic. It's a generational shift," Perlich said.

More than two-thirds (67.4 percent) of all Utahns were born in the state. And 8.4 percent are foreign-born. Of those who were born abroad, 44 .2 percent are from Mexico.

Utah ranks No. 2 in the nation for the percentage of its population that is Pacific Islanders.

It is only 1.0 percent, but still trails only Hawaii's 9.3 percent.

Familes R Us • Among the nation's 549 metropolitan and micropolitan areas, Utah has four of the top five in the percentage of households headed by married couples.

Provo-Orem is No. 1 at 69.6 percent; St. George is No. 2 at 66.6 percent; Logan is No. 3 at 65.6 percent; and Ogden-Clearfield is No. 5 at 64.3 percent.

Following them a bit distantly at No. 64 nationally is Salt Lake City at 54.9 percent. Utah's overall average was 60.4 percent, the highest in the nation.

On the other hand, Utah has the eighth highest divorce rate among women — 12.7 per 1,000 vs. 9.7 per 1,000 nationally.

Nick Wolfinger, a University of Utah professor of family and consumer studies, has said data showing Utah divorce rates higher than average are a bit deceptive because there are more marriages to begin with than in other states.

Odds and ends • Utah has some high or low rankings in categories that are a bit off-beat. For example, it has the nation's lowest percentage of people with disabilities at 8.8 percent.

It has the nation's highest percentage of homes that use natural gas as their primary heating fuel at 88.4 percent.

It has the nation's second-highest percentage of new housing built in 2005 or later at 11.5 percent.

Utah is also one of the places where men most outnumber women. It has 101.3 males for every 100 females, the fourth highest in the nation. But that is because of Utah's high number of children. Women tend to outlive men, so the older the population the more women it has. Utah has the nation's youngest population.