Ravell Call, Deseret News
FILE - Dignitaries pose for a photo during a press conference in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, announcing that the World Congress of Families will be in Salt Lake in October.

Welcome to a uniquely family friendly state.

On Tuesday the third of three conferences addressing the family in society will convene here in Salt Lake City. This is the first time the World Congress of Families has held its conference in the United States, and Salt Lake is an excellent choice as the host city.

When it comes to young and growing families, Utah holds a unique place among the 50 states. According to the latest 2014 American Community Survey data from the Census Bureau, Utah leads the nation in some telling statistics relative to family formation and growth. In each of the following categories, Utah is ranked No. 1, with a statistically wide margin over the No. 2 state.

  • Median age of the population (30.5 years old)
  • Percent of population under 5 years old (8.5 percent)
  • Percent of population between 5 and 17 years old (22.3 percent)
  • Percent of family households with children under 18 years of age (38.4 percent)
  • Average household size (3.16)

There are some very significant implications to these numbers. It means that Utah has the largest cohort of children and youths of any state in the country — by a statistically large margin. Children represent arguably the most expensive investment a society can make. Until children grow up and become adults, they consume much more than they produce. Providing for and protecting children is one of the most important — and expensive — roles of society.

If this rising cohort of youths ends up becoming contributing members of society as adults, they will benefit the Utah society and economy in very positive ways for many decades to come. If on the other hand this large cohort of children and youths grow up to be less-contributing members of society, they will be a drag on the Utah society and economy in very negative ways for many decades to come.

The good news for Utah is that the data are very clear as to what factors best promote the development of children and youths into adults who become contributing members of society.

First and foremost is a strong and healthy family environment, including adequate housing. This is true across all cultural, ethnic and socio-economic groups. Also critically important is a good education and good health care. And tying these together is a clean and efficient transportation system.

There are of course other factors, but these are hugely important and well-documented as causal factors in producing contributing members of society.

How Utah strengthens families, invests in affordable housing, education, health care and transportation now will have a major impact on the kind of place Utah will be in the coming decades. These investments must not be wasted, and they cannot be delayed without dire consequences for the state’s future.

More than any other state in the country, Utah has a vested interest in caring for children and in strengthening families. A new study released earlier this week by the American Enterprise Institute confirms the positive affect of healthy families on the wealth of states. While it is very costly to bear and rear children in society, there are few investments that pay a bigger dividend over the long run than investing in children who grow up to be contributing members of society.

Utahns are actively engaged in making the investment choices in each of the important areas that affect children's future. Making significant and wise investments now promises to ensure that Utah remains one of the best places to live for many years to come.