Utah's older population outpaced the growth of any other age group during the 1980s, with the state's oldest old - those 85 years and older - growing at a rate almost three times the state average.

An analysis of 1990 census figures released this week shows Utah's 65 and older set has grown at a rate of 37.3 percent. Next closest was been Utah's school-age population, growing 30.7 percent, followed by the 25-44 age group.The statistics come from questions the Census Bureau asked of all Beehive State households during its ambitious headcount last year.

Utah's graying trend was no surprise to those who provide services to the aging.

"That's what we've been saying for 10 years," said Shauna O'Neil, director of Salt Lake County Aging Services.

Earlier this decade the state was rated among the top 10 states with fast-growing older populations.

O'Neil warned of the implications that the trend - expected to continue until 2050 - presents, including the need for policies that allow the elderly to remain at home.

"The real challenge is the issue of those-85 plus. They are twice as likely to need assistance from family and community. Families provide a lot of that care but are limited in what they can provide. That puts pressure on churches, neighbors and the community," she said.

The state also is showing other signs of aging, although with a median age of 26.2 in 1990, Utah is likely to retain its designation as the nation's youngest state. Utah's median age rose from 24.2. in 1980. All state-by-state numbers in that category aren't available yet, but the U.S. median age in 1990 is 32.9.

"We've gotten a tad bit older as the Baby Boomers and Baby Boomlet grow older," said Patricia Frandsen, research analyst with the State Data Center.

In addition, Baby Boomer's children are now in the school system, while the offspring of the post-Baby Boom era number much less than their counterparts a decade ago. The number of children 4 years or younger has dropped more than 10 percent during the 1980s.

The 18-24 age group also dropped by 7.5 percent from 10 years ago.

Frandsen said that the combination of the aging population and presence of a large number of school children will continue to place burdens on Utah taxpayers. The census numbers show that Utah's dependency ratio has grown during the '80s and is likely to continue to be ranked as the nation's highest.

The dependency ratio is the proportion of wage-earning taxpayers between the ages of 18 and 64 who finance services such as education and health services for the old and young. In Utah, the number has grown from 80 to 82 dependents for every 100 people.

Here's what else the Census numbers showed:

- Utah retains its title as the state with the largest household size. Utah had 3.15 persons per household - dropping from 3.2 in 1980. The state was followed by Hawaii, with 3.01 persons per household. The smallest households were in the District of Columbia, 2.26; Florida, 2.46; and neighboring Colorado, 2.51.

- The percentage of Utahns who live in family households dropped from 78.36 percent to 76.5.

- 64.8 percent of Utah's households are occupied by married-couple families.

- Non-family households, composed of people who are not related to each other, increased from 21.64 percent to 23.5 percent of the total households in Utah.

- The median price for Utah homes occupied by their owners was $68,900. Summit County led all Utah counties, with a median home price of $107,800. San Juan County was lowest at $37,800.


(Additional information)

GRAPHIC\ A decade of change

With Baby Boomers getting older and having fewer children than their parents, Utah's older age groups make up a higher percentage of the state's population than they did 10 years ago. This trend is predicted to continue until 2050.

0-4 Years

Population 1980 1990 Change since 1980 Total Utah population

189,962 169,633 -10.7% 1980:1,461,037 1990:1,722,850

5-17 Years

350,143 457,811 30.7%

18-24 Years

216,304 199,986 -7.5%

25-44 Years

383,581 499,570 30.2%

45-64 Years

211,827 245,892 16.1%

65 + Years

109,220 149,958 37.3%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau