Utah birth rate still on decline even as economy recovers

December 29, 2019 GMT

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah is known for its high birth rate, but an ongoing lag has researchers wondering if the state is in a new era of lower fertility.

The state’s demographers expected people to start having more children as they recovered from the Great Recession, but even with more people working and making more money the state’s fertility rate has continued to drop, the the Deseret News reports.

Utah’s fertility rate fell to 2.03 births per woman last year — the lowest rate in more than 50 years, new census data shows. The state, which had the highest rate in the United States as recently as 2015, now sits behind North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska.


The national fertility rate has fallen to a historic low of 1.73 births per woman.

“We had all anticipated that we would have a decline in fertility, but we didn’t expect the decline to be so precipitous and the duration so long,” said Pamela Perlich, director of demographic research at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. “I think we’re into a new era.”

One of the factors that seems to be driving the change is that women are waiting to have children as they pursue academic and professional opportunities, Perlich said.

The 2012 change to allow women to go at an earlier age on missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has led to more women signing up for the 18-month proselytizing missions than past generations.

“They’ve had the opportunity to get schooling and be on these global missionary trips and participate in that experience,” Perlich said. “Every time you live in a new place and meet a new community, it opens your eyes and mind and heart to new possibilities for yourself.”

For many, that may mean prioritizing their careers. The percentage of women over 16 who are working has increased to 58% and more than half of Utah households with children under 6 have both parents working, a slight increase from a year earlier.

Prospective parents are also struggling to have enough money for rising housing costs while paying off student loans, making the extra costs of children and daycare seem daunting, Perlich said.

Cydni Tetro, president of the Salt Lake City-based Women Tech Council, said her industry is trying to offer flexible work hours to entice women who have children to stay in the field.


“There’s sometimes I’m just working from the soccer field, or I’m working in my car,” said Tetro, also the CEO of the software company ForgeDX and a mother of three. “That’s not true in every industry, but in technology, we have flexibility that no one else has in order to support our businesses. And it becomes very helpful to your family and to being able to have children and to build a career.”

Utah is unlikely to ever return to past fertility rates — it was 4.3 in 1960 — but a bump could be on the horizon because many young adults who have been waiting to have kids may now be ready. The majority of the state’s population still belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which encourages couples to have children.

“I expect that pregnant pause is probably about over,” Perlich said.