USU UWLP Reports on Utah Women’s Fertility Trends and Changes
Utah’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has been consistently ahead of the national average for the last 50 years; however, the gap is narrowing as fertility rates in the state and nation begin to decline. The Utah State University Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) recently produced a research report showing trends and changes in TFR from 1970 to 2021.
Susan Madsen, UWLP founding director, said there have been definite changes in the makeup of families in Utah over the years. The TFR in Utah decreased by 42.4% compared to 50 years ago, and the national rate has decreased by 36%.
“Utah women have made diverse decisions about their childbearing and families, changing throughout the decades in response to cultural contexts, social norms, and personal circumstances,” she said. “This report shows us the importance of supporting women and families so they have the resources they need to make decisions that are right for them.”
The report showed that Utah women tend to marry earlier and have their first child at a younger age than the average American woman. However, the age at first marriage and first birth has increased both nationally and in Utah, shifting from women’s early 20s to mid-20s for Utah and later 20s for the U.S.
The share of Utah women who have never married increased to 28.3% in 2021, up from 22% in 1980. Marriage rates have declined over the last five decades in Utah and the U.S., and divorce rates of Utah women have followed national trends, climbing between 1970 and 2010, then dropping slightly in the last decade.
In the U.S. in 1970, 11.2% of women ages 25 to 64 in the labor force held a bachelor’s degree, and a third had less than a high school diploma. In 1979, U.S. women earned 62.3 cents for every dollar men earned. The 1980s marked the beginning of a steady decline in the gender gap in labor force participation, with women increasing their commitment to education and making career decisions that complemented their lifestyle preferences. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed in 1993, guaranteeing employees unpaid time off for family and medical reasons, such as for the birth or adoption of a child.
Utah’s racial and ethnic makeup showed signs of diversifying in the 2000s: 89.2% were White, and 10.8% were Hispanic, Asian, American Indian or Native Alaskan, Black, or another race. The study showed that economic downturns might influence a decline in births and total fertility rates, and the Great Recession led to a decrease in Utah fertility rates. The COVID-19 pandemic may also affect TFR, with research suggesting that more time at home created a “baby bump,” while economic implications of the pandemic may influence decreases in fertility. The average number of children born to Utah women dropped below 2 for the first time to 1.9. This is significant, given that a TFR of 2.1 is considered necessary to replace the population.
Overall, Utah is changing when it comes to the formation and makeup of families, said Kaitlyn Pieper, lead report author and executive director of the Utah Center for Legal Inclusion. Divorce rates are dropping, the age of first marriage and age of mothers at their first birth are increasing, and more women than ever have never married.
“Utah’s declining TFR has implications for the state’s future, including impacts on school enrollment and labor force participation as well as healthcare costs associated with an aging population,” she said. “Community leaders will need to carefully consider how to balance resources among various populations and support women and families so they are empowered to make childbearing choices that are right for them.”
Additional report authors are Melinda Nagai Seager, City of South Jordan Intergovernmental Affairs associate director, and Robyn Blackburn, UWLP research fellow.
To see the full report with references, click here. For further information on UWLP programs and projects, visit utwomen.org.