Utah's population continues to have the largest percentage of children in the nation; however, that percentage continues to decline, matching trends in other states, according to recently released Census Bureau estimations.

The Census Bureau finds that about 27.6% of all Utahns are younger than 18, according to age estimates for every state released earlier this month. The data complements state and county population estimates that had already been released.

While Utah's percentage is nearly 3 percentage points ahead of any other state in the nation, it's also a decrease of 1.4 percentage points from the 2020 Census and 3.9 percentage points from the 2010 census. The national rate also dropped from 22.2% to 21.7% between the 2021 and 2022 estimates.

The findings aren't much of a surprise for state experts, though. It shows the continuation of a nationwide trend they've tracked since about the beginning of the Great Recession.

"In general, the birth rate is going down (and has been) historically for a long time," says Mike Hollingshaus, senior demographer at the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. "In Utah, especially, it's gone down a lot since around 2008."

Meanwhile, he said people are living "a lot longer" than they did three or four decades ago, which also drives up the median age of a population.

This ongoing trend has its pros and cons. In theory, it could mean more Utahns are entering the labor force, especially if Utah's 18- to 60-year-old population is growing, Hollingshaus said. On the downside, it could result in rising health care costs, especially as people live longer.

It may also impact schools, a subject that Mallory Bateman, Gardner Policy Institute's director of demographic research, focuses heavily on. She co-authored a study on Utah's school- and college-age populations in December, which estimates that Utah will gain about 284,000 school- and college-age groups by 2060, the slowest increase of any age group projected over the next 40 years.

About two-thirds of the state's growth is anticipated to happen in Utah County, while some counties, including Salt Lake, are forecast to lose child population over that time. If the projections hold up, the percentage of Utahns within the K-12 and college system will slip from about 22% to about 15%.

Interestingly enough, the study was published a few weeks after state auditors released a report that found enrollment in the Salt Lake City School District dropped 17% between fall 2013 and fall 2022, and that the district would need to close at least six schools to reach 75% utilization of the district's building space.

District officials told KSL NewsRadio at the time that the audit didn't take into account the need for children to have schools in their neighborhoods but it did raise "tough questions" the district will have to consider in the future.

The situation there may foreshadow some of the discussions other schools and districts will face in the future if the population trends continue as projected.

It's difficult to know if those projections will hold up, though. Hollingshaus points out there could be some minor jumps in rates when the children born just before 2008 start to get into child-bearing ages. He also acknowledges that experts never really projected the baby boom that took place between the 1940s and 1960s, so it's always possible a surprise baby boom could be somewhere on the horizon.

"The future is not set," he said. "If you had (a baby boom), then your birthrates would go up considerably and that would certainly change things."