SALT LAKE CITY — Utah continues to have the youngest newly married couples in the country, as well as one of the highest rates of children who live with both parents, according to data released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
It confirms what local researchers have observed as Utah lags the nation in ongoing trends while heading in the same direction with rising ages of marriage, changes in living arrangements and other family characteristics.
"We maintain these signature demographics," said Pamela Perlich, director of demographic research at the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. "We're still different, but it's not just the levels that are important here. It's the trends."
Out of 73.6 million children under age 18 in the U.S. this year, 69 percent of them lived with two parents — the same as it was 20 years ago but a 16 percent drop from 1970. Also this year, 23 percent of children lived only with a mother, 4 percent lived only with a father, and 4 percent had no parent present, according to the bureau's Current Population Survey.
While Utah participated in the survey, Perlich said it's hard to make an "apples-to-apples" comparison between Utah and the nation in living arrangements due to sample size.
But according to last year's American Community Survey, 81 percent of Utah's 878,267 children under age 18 lived with two parents, down 2 percent from 2005. Fourteen percent of Utah children lived only with a mother, and 5 percent lived only with a father.
It's a trend Utah and the nation have maintained in recent years as nonmarital births have leveled off and even declined slightly, according to Nicholas Wolfinger, professor of family and consumer studies and adjunct professor of sociology at the U.
"Utah has one of the highest rates in the nation of children who live with two parents and the lowest rates in the nation of children living with just a single mother," Wolfinger said. "Utah does really well on those measures."
Perlich said the long-held trend could potentially show that couples continue to recognize the benefits of having more than one adult present in raising a child. Households with three generations are also becoming more common, she said.
"It's tough being a single parent," she said. "It takes a village."
The bureau also reported that 1 in 4 married groups with children under age 15 have a stay-at-home mother.
The median age at which Americans get married for the first time is also rising very slowly, though it's much higher than it was in previous generations. In 2015, men across the U.S. typically tied the knot at age 29, while for women, it was age 27. In 1947, those ages were 24 and 21, respectively, the bureau reported.
Last year in Utah, 26 was the median marriage age for men and 24 was the median age for women.
In addition to cultural differences between millennials — those born between 1980 and 1998 — and baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — Perlich said rising marriage ages can be attributed to an economy that is still recovering from the Great Recession.
"Part of this is a social trend, but part of this is that the labor market has just not allowed young folks to live independently. Part of it is the lack of affordable housing for people," she said. "You've got lots of things going on."
Couples have also delayed having children until they felt more secure economically, Perlich said. Its contributed to a declining fertility rate for Utah, which is 2.3 children per woman. Thats above the national average of 1.9 children per woman and the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. But Utahs fertility rate, as well as that of other states, are expected to go back up as economic conditions improve, she said.
But there are benefits to a rising median marriage age, according to Wolfinger. In a study published this summer, he pointed out that as couples get married at later ages, the likelihood that their marriage will end in divorce declines.
For example, couples who get married younger than age 20 have a 32 percent risk of divorce, while those who wed between ages 30 and 34 — a time Wolfinger calls the "Goldilocks zone" — have only a 14 percent chance of divorce.
"Marrying older is one reason why divorce is down," Wolfinger said. "It's an important reason, but it's not the only reason."
Utah joins other states now seeing a transformation in the age structure of their populations. Between 2005 and 2015, the portion of families nationwide that have at least one member 65 years or older living at home increased from 20 percent to 25 percent. Now, about 13.3 million older adults live alone, representing 29 percent of people 65 or older, according to Census estimates.
In Utah, the transformation is much more pronounced. As a large population of baby boomers moves into retirement, many employers are having to turn to millennials to fill hiring needs. Utah also has a life expectancy that exceeds that of the national average, Perlich said.
"There are more households headed by older people whose kids have already moved out," she said. "We're the youngest state in the nation, but we're getting older, too."