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Sometime this year, the millennial, those ages 18 to 34 in 2015, will outnumber what has been America's largest generation, baby boomers. Generation X finds itself caught in the middle, for now.

SALT LAKE CITY — Millennials make up a proportion of Utah's population that is second highest in the nation, and Utah is well ahead of the national curve of millennials becoming the largest living generation this year, according to a Utah Foundation report released Thursday.

In other areas, Utah is mirroring national trends where millennials — ages 18 to 34 — are becoming increasingly diverse, having fewer children and identifying as religiously unaffiliated more frequently than previous generations, according to the report.

The first of a four-part series of reports by the Utah Foundation was published the same day as the public release of U.S. Census Bureau estimates, which show Utah's population growth rate continues to outpace the nation.

As the younger generation becomes a larger share of Utah's population, it also takes on the responsibilities and influence left behind by baby boomers entering retirement age, according to Utah Foundation research analyst Mallory Bateman.

"This younger group is going to be taking on more and more responsibility as they get older and enter adulthood. These people are the homebuyers. They've been a little bit delayed because of the economy, but they're entering that age where first-time homebuying is an option," Bateman said. "They're going to be playing a larger role in the workforce and voting going forward."

Utah's ethnic diversity, while growing, still lags behind the national average. In 2013, 69 percent of millennials nationwide identified as white, with 79 percent of baby boomers in the same category. In Utah, 85 percent of millennials identified as white, compared with 91 percent of baby boomers, according to the report.

Millennials are also waiting longer to get married and have children, though Utahns typically marry and have children at a younger age than most Americans, making Utah the youngest state in the nation.

Between July 2013 and July 2014, Utah had about 51,400 births and 15,300 deaths, with a natural population increase of more than 36,000, according to Thursday's census estimates. But birth rates in Utah and across the country are on a downward trend.

Part of the drop is a natural phenomenon, according to Pamela Perlich, senior research economist with the University of Utah's Bureau of Economics and Business Research.

"We're in a period of relatively slow population growth for Utah," Perlich said. "Because the population is aging, as a natural course, we're getting larger numbers of deaths every year because we've got that aging baby boom."

But economic conditions also weigh heavily on millennials, many of whom entered the age of independence near the peak of the Great Recession.

"Births have been declining every year since the Great Recession occurred," Perlich said. "Part of this is a structural demographic change, but part of it is also a reaction to the very devastating impacts that the recession has had on the young people being able to get their footing in the labor market and being able to form independent households."

A smaller portion of Utah's millennial mothers are employed and a larger portion are stay-at-home mothers than previous generations. While 53 percent of millennial mothers were employed and 43 percent stayed at home in 2013, 68 percent of boomer mothers were employed and 29 percent stayed at home, according to the report.

As with birth rates, Utah's housing market took a hit during a recession, slowing the construction of new homes. But census estimates show Utah is well into recovery, with a one-year housing unit growth rate that ranked second in the nation between July 2013 and July 2014.

Much of the growth in Utah's urban areas involves multi-family dwellings, which some say is becoming increasingly popular as millennials acquire their own housing. Part of it is due to slow economic recovery, but some of the growth could be generational preference, according to James Wood, director of the Bureau of Economics and Business Research at the University of Utah.

"A lot of people think that the millennials have a different housing preference," Wood said. "We've got an age structure where kids are into their 20s, they want to leave home, and what they're doing is doubling up on apartments because these new apartments are very expensive."

Religious identity looks different from generation to generation in the state, which consistently shows higher rates of religious affiliation than other states. Nationally, 36 percent of millennials identified as religiously unaffiliated, compared with 30 percent in Utah.

For older generations, 20 percent of people in Gen X in Utah were religiously unaffiliated, 18 percent for baby boomers, and 6 percent for the silent generation — those born between 1928 and 1945, according to the report.

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