Salt Lake City’s population continues to swell, and it is not because residents are having children. In fact, the opposite is happening.
Out of the last census, the city’s under-18 population dropped to just under 19%, according to a new report from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, the smallest it’s been in more than a century.
It’s not shocking that Salt Lakers are having fewer children, said Mallory Bateman, the institute’s director of demographic research, because it follows a national trend. It was a different data point that caught her off guard.
“Honestly, the fact that the city grew and it was not due to kids at all feels surprising to me as an almost lifelong Utahn,” she said.
Utah is known for its family-centric culture. It’s the youngest state in the nation and used to have the highest birth rate. Over the last decade, the under-18 population in Salt Lake City shrank by 12%. Households with at least one minor child dropped from 46% in 2010 to 39% in 2020.
On average, Bateman said an increasing number of Utahns are waiting until their mid to late 20s to start a family. And for some, kids were never in the cards. Esterline Wunderli, a 21-year-old student at The University of Utah, isn’t interested in being a parent.
“My reasoning is as a Black woman in the U.S., with the way that the medical system is currently, I don’t think it would be very safe for me to have children in those environments,” she said.
Others, like 20-year-old Madeleine Felix, want to prioritize their career instead of raising a child. Felix said she is also scared to have a baby because she doesn’t want them to “bear the brunt” of things like climate change. The same goes for 19-year-old Zella Aspengren.
“I don’t know if I really want to bring more kids into a world that doesn’t really have enough to support them,” Aspengren said. “So it makes me nervous.”
While the reasons may differ among young adult Utahns, fertility rates are down statewide. The reality is Utahns aren’t as motivated to have children as they once were. There are a lot of factors to that, Bateman said, but there have been “societal and cultural changes” happening on a broader scale that influence the decision to start a family.
“Women are getting, you know, more advanced degrees or staying in school. And that just kind of changes what that family planning picture might look like,” she said.
Other states have been experiencing a drop in birth rates for some time now. Utah, on the other hand, is just starting to wrap its head around the shifting demographics. With an older population, Bateman said “the community needs change,” like different infrastructure or health care amenities.
“I think these are some things that haven’t necessarily needed to be top of mind in Utah, because we’re the youngest state in the nation,” she said. “But decision makers should be considering this change in age structure. It’s something that’s not going to go away.”