Utahns are more likely than most to be living a big part of the American dream - homeownership.

According to a new Census Bureau report, Utah ranks eighth among the 50 states in the percentage of households living in homes owned by their occupants.Among large metropolitan areas, Salt Lake City-Ogden is close to being top in the nation in homeownership. Only three wealthy areas near New York City have higher ownership rates.

The report says that 72.8 percent of the homes in that metro area are occupant-owned. The state's homeownership percentage was slightly lower than the rate in its largest metropolitan area at 70.4 percent.

Those Utah rates are well above the national homeownership rate of 63.9 percent. The figures also show that Utah has bucked the national trend of shrinking homeownership rates during the 1980s.

The homeownership rate in the United States declined from 1980 to 1989, the first decadelong decline since the 1930s. Nationally, the rate of ownership dropped 1.7 percentage points in the nine-year period, the Census Bureau reported.

Utah's homeownership rate remained fairly stable during the 1980s. In the Salt Lake-Ogden area, homeownership rates rose slightly from 71.2 percent in 1986 to 72.8 percent in 1989. Utah homeownership rates had a similar small increase, from 68 percent in 1986 to 70.4 percent in 1989.

In 1989, the last year shown in the report, West Virginia had the highest homeownership rate at 74.8 percent. New York was lowest at 52.3 percent.

The hardest hit by a decade of homeownership declines, statistics show, were U.S. householders under age 35. That group dropped from a 58.2 homeownership rate to 56.6 percent during the 1980s.

Robert R. Callis, a statistician at the Census Bureau who prepared the report, said that high percentages of family households is linked to high percentages of homeownership. That probably accounts for Utah's high ranking because two-parent family households are more prevalent here.

Also, two-income families, which occur in Utah at higher-than-average rates, could help account for the high homeownership rates.

While the statistics show a link between wealth and homeownership, Salt Lake City-Ogden, a relatively low-income area, and middle-income stalwarts Detroit and Milwaukee ranked high in homeownership.

Salt Lake City-Ogden's home-ownership percentage is just lower than those in high-income Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y.; Monmouth-Ocean, N.J.; and Middlesex-Somerset-Hunterdon, N.J.

Richmond, Va., and Philadelphia were ranked just behind Salt Lake City-Ogden in the report.

In the West, homeownership rates remained relatively stable, dipping only slightly during the decade, except in Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico, which had significant drops in homeownership rates. Altogether, Western states still had the lowest homeownership rates in the nation at 57.8 percent at the end of the decade.

Homeownership rates in South and Midwest also dropped while those in the Northeast increased. Despite the decline, the Midwest still maintained the highest homeownership rates in the nation.

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(Chart)

The leaders

Most likely to own homes

West Virginia 74.8

Maine 73.6

Michigan 73.2

Pennsylvania 72.8

Mississippi 72.2

Oklahoma 71.4

South Carolina 71.0

Utah 70.4

Virginia 70.2

Iowa 69.6 tie

Ohio 69.6 tie

Wyoming 69.6 tie

Numbers are for 1989

Source: U.S. Census Bureau