Spurred on by my colleague Daedan Olander’s description this week of how Utah’s population was growing and changing during the past year, I was inspired to dig into a related question: How many Utahns are from Utah?
It seems like every day I hear someone blaming a transplant for changing something fundamental about our state. For those on one side of the political aisle, the refrain that invading Californians are imminently going to change our politics echoes loudly — despite significant evidence to the contrary. But that’s not the only place I hear the complaint: Rent increases, gentrifying neighborhoods, water shortages, traffic problems, and more have all been chalked up by some to the boogeyman of those who aren’t from here.
So I thought I’d take a quick look at how many Utahns are actually from Utah — which we’ll define, for demographic simplicity, as having been born in the state. We’ll then use census data from the past 170 years to see how that’s changed over time. I also wanted to compare Utah to other states, especially regionally, to get an idea of where we stack up.
How many Utahns are from Utah?
It turns out that the U.S. Census Bureau keeps tabs on this pretty well, thanks to the American Community Survey. As of 2020, the most recent data released, an estimated 62.6% of Utahns were born in Utah. That’s most of us!
How does that compare to other states? Luckily for me, this is an issue in which a lot of demographers have created some beautiful maps. A map, by Twitter user Landgeist, shows the percentage of each state’s population that was born in that state.
The map is from 2019, but the results are not substantially different from the results you’d see from the most recent data. You’ll see that Utah (at 61.8%) is actually a Western outlier in terms of the number of transplants. Surrounding states Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona and Idaho all have a minority of their residents who were born in the state where they currently live.
Honestly, these numbers surprised me. Maybe I could understand Nevada, a gambling haven and so close to California that even a few movers can overwhelm those born in the state. And perhaps the Arizona numbers don’t surprise me either, because of its reputation as a retirement retreat.
But that only 47% of Idahoans were born in Idaho stunned me, especially given that state’s demographic similarities to Utah. Colorado and Wyoming are beautiful places to live, but, still, they don’t have a majority of their population being born in the state. And all of those so-called Californians invading Utah? Well, nearly half aren’t originally from California at all. Perhaps there is less discussion of transplants there, because many folks are transplants.
Now, Utah does have more transplants than much of the Midwest and Eastern regions — especially Louisiana, Michigan and Ohio, the top three homebody states.
How has Utah’s percentage of transplants changed over time?
Has the percentage of transplants changed drastically in recent years? I pulled the census’ data from 1850 onward to see.
You can see, before the region known as Utah was even given statehood, that not many of the folks who lived here were born here. That makes a lot of sense, given the migration of Mormon settlers moving into the state. But moving forward, the proportion of Utahns who were born in Utah steadily rose until 1940, when Utah natives made up 77.3% of the state’s population.
More transplants came in, though, in the ensuing decades — not enough to make drastic changes in the proportion but a couple of percentage points per census. By the time we reached 2000, non-transplants made up 63% of Utah’s population. That number has hovered around there for the past 20 years. And that’s despite increases to the number of residents who now live in Utah but come from other countries, not just other U.S. states.
Again, we can see how that compares to other states, courtesy of other demographers. One chart, from 1Point21 Interactive, shows a similar graph for all 50 states.
Indeed, the flat or slightly decreasing trend in native born Utahns is pretty common across the states that surround us. California, though, has recently seen an uptick in the percentage of native Californians.
Yes, the unprecedented years of 2021 and 2022 have spurred migration to Utah, but not by enough to really change the comparative story here. In all, 33,380 people moved to Utah in 2021, but the natural increase of the state’s population was an estimated 22,992 people, so those extra 10,000 haven’t been enough to move the proportion-of-transplant needle by more than a third of a percentage point. In the end, Utah still has far fewer transplants than the states in our neighboring region.
One last thing: for Utah’s five most populated counties, the census data gives estimates on how many of its residents were born in Utah.
There are differences between the counties, to be sure. Washington County has the most transplants of the five — again, likely that retirement influence. But the overall story isn’t vastly different anywhere. No matter where we live in Utah, we’re still mostly among those who were born here.
As someone who was born here and has lived here for my entire life, I happen to welcome our new residents. Yes, of course, there are logistical challenges to bringing new folks on board, but we can work through those. Sure, they didn’t have the same upbringing as us — the way I look at it, that might give us something new to learn.
Most of all, we should keep a firm grasp on reality. Fifty years ago, the percentage of Utahns who were born in Utah was 67.9%. Losing 5 percentage points off that number in 50 years simply hasn’t changed the state that much — not everything can, nor should be, blamed on those who claim somewhere else as their hometown.
Andy Larsen is a data columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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