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Despite downward trend, Utah maintains highest average fertility rate in nation

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Posted at 9:39 PM, Jan 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-10 23:39:02-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Americans are having fewer children, and that's true here in Utah as well as across the country.

The average number of children per household in America has gone down since the peak of the baby boom in 1957, and Pamela Perlich, director of demographic research at the University of Utah, said the Beehive State has also experienced that downward trend.

“If we look back a generation, or maybe two generations ago, women in Utah—families in Utah—were routinely having four of five kids; now families are having two kids, slightly more than two kids on average,” Perlich said.

Perlich said the trend towards lower fertility rates nationwide paired with the 2007 recession for an overall reduction in average birth rate. She said even if people had planned on having children, they started to hold back because of concerns about job losses, steep housing expenses, or a general insecurity about the future.

But, in Utah, Perlich said there were two other factors at play as well.

The first was a large migration of people in the ‘90s, which continued until the start of the financial crisis in late 2007. Perlich said the influx of people weren’t necessarily members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which had an impact on average birth rates in families.

“Many of the people who came were not LDS,” Perlich said. “The LDS populations, of course, are a culture that really values family and have been driving our very high fertility rates for so many years.”

Perlich said the other factor is the change to the minimum age for young women in the LDS Church to serve religious missions. That minimum age for women serving missions used to be 21, now it’s 19.

Even with Utah’s downward trend in fertility rates, it still has the highest rate in the nation. Women in Utah give birth to an average of 2.3 children, while the national average is 1.8.

Perlich said if we want to see the downward trend reversed, there are several policies that can help.

“Affordable child care, affordable housing, living wages, a way to make sure that college graduates don't graduate with huge debt,” she said.