Why aren’t Utahns having kids and more kids?

Join The Tribune and The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute for a solutions-driven conversation about the impacts of fertility rates dropping in Utah.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Child-focused celebrations aside, like this kids' parade in Liberty Utah on July 4, 2023, Utah has been slipping in the national rankings for fertility. An Aug. 24 community conversation sponsored by The Salt Lake Tribune and Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute will share data on the topic and shake out the reasons behind fewer children in Utah's future.

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

[Do you have questions you’d like to ask the panel? Submit them here.]

For nearly forever, Utah has led the nation in fertility and birth rates. Super-sized families have influenced everything from minivan jokes, to tax and budget policies, to classrooms bursting at the seams.

But times have changed. Although Utah remains the youngest state in the nation and has the highest share of households with five or more people, fertility rates are dropping. And quickly. Utah now places fourth in fertility rates — behind South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska. The fertility rate has decreased by almost 22% since 2010.

The Salt Lake Tribune and Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute will explore the data around this societal and cultural shift Aug. 24 at the next “Storytelling through Data” event. The co-sponsored series of conversations focuses on data-grounded, solutions-oriented dialogue critical to quality of life in Utah.

Fueled by data from the Gardner Institute, a lively Q & A-based conversation titled “Why Aren’t Utahns Having Kids?” will hover on the “whys” behind the concerns Utahns of childbearing age are bringing to the family planning topic.

Some reasons for delaying or deciding against having children are practical, namely cost: A 2022 study found the cost of raising one child from birth to age 17 in the U.S. is now almost $311,000. Think of child care alone. Recent Tribune reporting revealed that child care costs in Utah are likely to jump 9% or more in the coming year, as federal stabilization grants awarded to day care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic dry up.

Other reasons? Fear for the planet’s future as climate change continues to bear down? Housing costs? Career needs and choices? One thing is certain: Continuing shifts in the number of children will have far-reaching impacts on the state’s economy, employment, housing, education, recreation sector and more.

“It’s easy to forget how significant the cost of child care can be for young people,” said Tribune Editor Lauren Gustus, who will moderate the discussion. “And that’s without housing and other concerns. Let’s elevate this conversation and the potential solutions.”

The panel for the conversation includes:

• Emily Harris, Senior Demographer, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute

• Derek Monson, Vice President of Policy, Sutherland Institute

• Emily Bell McCormick, Founder and CEO, The Utah Policy Project

The event will be held on Thursday, Aug. 24 from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at The Thomas S. Monson Center, 411 E. South Temple, in Salt Lake City. It is free and open to the public, but you must register to attend here.

Other key findings from Gardner Policy Institute data include:

• Declines in every state: The fertility rate declined in all states and divisions over the past decade. The Intermountain West and Pacific divisions’ fertility rates declined the fastest of all divisions.

• Utah drops from first to fourth: Utah’s fertility rate declined from 2010 to 2020 from highest to fourth highest nationally but remained the highest in the Intermountain West. South Dakota, Nebraska, and North Dakota have higher fertility rates than Utah.

• Utah’s drop has been the seventh fastest: Utah’s fertility rate declined by almost 22%, the seventh fastest decline in the nation.

• Declines in fertility rates from ages 15 to 29: Every division and region of the country experienced fertility declines in the age groups 15-17, 18-19, 20-24 and 25-29. This signals a decline in teen pregnancies but also in the age groups considered to be peak childbearing years.