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Utah has the country's highest fertility rate, youngest median age of first marriage and highest percentage of married households, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released today.

Utah's new moms are also among the least likely to be teenagers or in the work force or unmarried, according to the analysis of the links between marriage, fertility and other socioeconomic characteristics.

The report, Indicators of Marriage and Fertility in the United States From the American Community Survey, 2000 to 2003, looks at a four-year average of marriage and fertility data.

It also provides the census' first state-by-state analysis of median age at first marriage. In Utah, women married at a median age of 21.9, and men at 23.9 — both the youngest ages.

Utah also had the highest rate of married-couple-headed households — 63 percent — compared to just over half of all households nationally.

The census analysis, from a sample of 3.3 million covering four years of American Community Survey data (2000—2003), showed a link between the proportion of mothers with infants living below the poverty level and low levels of labor force participation, as well as a high proportion of teen births among unmarried mothers.

Jane Dye, an author of the report, said it is based on 3.3 million surveys over four years of American Community Survey data, and is compared to birth certificate information from National Vital Statistics Reports.

"These are the types of data that policymakers can use to more specifically target programs to strengthen the family," Census Bureau Director Louis Kincannon said in a statement.

University of Utah senior research economist Pam Perlich said the report "reinforces what we already know about Utah."

At roughly 90 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, Utah has the nation's highest fertility rate, and only about 15 percent of new moms in Utah were unwed, also the nation's lowest rate. The next lowest state was Minnesota where about 21 percent of new mothers were unmarried.

In Utah, only 48 percent of women who had given birth in the past year were in the labor force — the lowest rate in the nation. Nationally, 56 percent of new moms worked.

Utah also has the lowest teen birth rate, but the highest birth rate for women age 20 and up, Perlich said.

"What this tells me is these trends are continuing," Perlich said. "We have a high fertility rate, a high rate of marriage, and a very low labor force participation of women who just had children."

Some key findings:

• Utah had the lowest percentage of unwed mothers with infants (14.7 percent). Nationally, that number was just under 30 percent.

Comment on this story • Half of all new unmarried mothers were below the poverty level — four times the rate of their married counterparts. Nearly 30 percent of all new mothers were unmarried. In Utah, 45 percent of unwed mothers who had recently given birth were in poverty, compared to about 12 percent of married mothers.

• In Massachusetts, 4.3 percent of births were to teenage moms, Utah ranked second with 4.6 percent of births to teens. Teen births were more prevalent in the South, with Arkansas (13.3 percent), Mississippi (12.8 percent) and Louisiana (12.1 percent) among those above the national average of 7.7 percent.

• Fifteen percent of all women who gave birth within the past year were not U.S. citizens. In Utah, that rate was 3.2 percent.



E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com