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New Book Provides Glimpse into Utah’s Population and Where it is Headed

March 27, 2006 — To outsiders, the state of Utah often conjures up many stereotypes and images: Mormons, polygamy, large families, national parks and skiing. Utahns know that there is much, much more to the Beehive State and its residents than these generalizations.

According to a new book, numerous features of the population are steadily and profoundly altering the nature of Utah and its residents. Utah at the Beginning of the New Millennium: A Demographic Perspective, published by the University of Utah Press, illustrates the power and influence of Utah’s demographic forces, providing an extensive assessment of Utah”s population and where it is headed.

Co-edited by University researchers Cathleen D. Zick and Ken R. Smith, faculty in the U’s Department of Family and Consumers Studies and investigators at the Institute of Public and International Affairs, the volume includes a range of topics-the demographics of religion, crime, marriage and divorce and the well-being of children. The collection of essays, authored, in part, by University faculty and by other leading social and population scientists, draws on contributors’ areas of expertise to analyze Utah’s population and uses recent sources, such as the 2000 U.S. Census. The book, comprised of 22 chapters, is organized into three broad sections: basic demographics, quality-of-life concerns and emerging population issues.

Basic demographics, or the first portion of the book, compares Utah’s age and kinship structure-as well as births, marriage, migration, deaths, fertility and marriage patterns-to the rest of the nation and explores changes over time. For instance, Geraldine Mineau, research professor in the department of oncological sciences and director of population sciences at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, and Alison Fraser, research analyst at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, examine the historical changes in family structure in Utah and report that while only 78 percent of children born in 1890 had a maternal grandmother alive when they were born, the percentage had risen to 96 percent by the year 2000.

The essays devoted to quality-of-life issues consider a panoply of factors that affect Utahns’ daily life-financial well-being, consumption patterns, health care, education, crime, religion, the well-being of Utah’s children and youth and crime. Authors Heather C. Melton, assistant professor of sociology at the U, and Kristjane Nordmeyer, a U sociology graduate student, explain how Utah is below the national average for violent crime, but above the average for crimes against property, particularly along the Wasatch Front.

The final section of the book, devoted to emerging population issues, focuses on population shifts and trends and the resulting challenges that much of the country is presently facing and their potential for affecting Utah or important components of it. This portion of the book also explores the change in Utah’s ethnic and racial composition and the transformation of the urban-rural divide and how it affects education, unemployment, income and housing. The section closes with chapters on population, politics and public policies and their role in steering Utah’s path into the new millennium. Neil H. Ashdown, deputy chief of staff for policy for the State of Utah, and Robert M. Spendlove, chief economist for the Utah Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, illustrate how voluminous data, similar to data used in the book, are leveraged to analyze, forecast and plan for Utah’s future.

The volume portrays a state that is at the cusp of significant demographic change, which promises to present new challenges to the quality of life in the Beehive State. Research contained in Utah at the Beginning of the New Millennium: A Demographic Perspective will be of interest to policy makers. Significant findings include:

  • Child Well Being. While Utah has ranked consistently high in terms of child well being, within the state, there is considerable variation in terms of child health outcomes. For example, research and analyses indicate that in counties where there are risk factors, such as rural status and a lack of economic resources, injury and child abuse rates are alarmingly high.

  • Diversity. Despite increased growth in Utah’s racial or ethnic minority groups in the last decade, patterns of social segregation (residential and occupational) and economic inequalities continue to shape and limit social interaction across groups. Notably, as the Latino population has grown dramatically, its levels of segregation have risen correspondingly. Moreover, comparing across all groups, non‑Hispanic whites continue to have by far the lowest overall level of cross‑racial/ethnic interaction.

  • Longevity. Utahns life expectancy exceeds the national average by approximately two years for both men and women. Indeed, men in Cache and Rich counties, on average, live longer than men in any other county in the nation. Utah’s health bounty is not shared equally among all inhabitants, however.

  • Religion. The proportion of the Utah LDS population declined in the last decade of the 20th century, not only at the state level, but among the majority of the 28 Utah counties. Regardless of the estimated decline of the LDS population from roughly three‑quarters of the population to two‑thirds of the population, the LDS remain a majority dominating religious membership at the state level and among most counties because only four have 50 percent or less of the population identified as LDS.