SALT LAKE CITY — Both nationally and in Utah, household size is increasing, even as two traditional drivers of living arrangements are going in the opposite direction — women are having fewer children and the share of people over age 65 is increasing.
That’s according to the just-released five-year data estimate from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which covers 2012-2016 and examined 40 points on economic, social, demographic and housing data.
The survey found that average Utah household size increased from 3.06 to 3.16, which is statistically significant. Average family size increased to 3.65 from 3.55. Analysis of the Utah data was provided by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah.
Utah’s median age rose from 29.1 in 2007-2011 to 30.3 in the new data set, while the share of older Utahns increased from 9 percent to 10 percent. Meanwhile, the share of households containing children dropped from 39.6 percent to 38.5 percent and the share containing at least one senior, 65 or older, rose from 19.4 percent in the early data to 22.1 percent in the current analysis. The share of older Utahns living alone also rose to 7.1 percent from 6.3 percent.
The growing and slightly older population, as well as more senior citizens, all reflect trends demographers have tracked for some time, said Pamela Perlich, director of demographic research at the policy institute. The increase in household size seems to be a new trend, but it’s a puzzling one because it’s happening despite women having fewer children and the increase in the share of people who are older, she said.
Analysis of Utah-specific data also shows two other points that have demographers scratching their heads, she said: The poverty rate has increased in Washington County in southern Utah with no clear explanation, while most of the rest of the state has remained largely stable or poverty has generally decreased. And while rents have gone up pretty much statewide, Daggett County in the northeast corner of Utah has seen a dramatic reduction in rental housing costs.
The American Community Survey estimates are released each year in December, covering the most recent five-year period. They replaced the Census Long Form and provide a deep dive into data about small geographic areas. The survey “allows us to track incremental changes across our nation on how people live and work, year to year,” said David Waddington, chief of the Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division. “It’s our country’s only source of small-area estimates for socioeconomic and demographic characteristics,” including data on all 3,142 counties in the United States.
Governments and planners at all levels use the data to determine how to spend more than $675 billion in federal funding on infrastructure and services for everything from roads to hospitals.
“It is important to have current information and to be aware of projections as we make smart planning decisions about roads and transportation, for example,” said John Gleason, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation.
He said population growth, where people are moving in and out, business growth and more all impact everything UDOT and other state agencies do. UDOT works with at least five long-term planning groups on different aspects of community growth.
A changing Utah
Not quite a third of Utah households are married couples with children — and they are having fewer kids. So who are these new growing households? The growth in household size could indicate folks over 65 are moving in with their adult kids in greater numbers, perhaps to help with younger children, Perlich said. Or it might reflect the multigenerational nature of "a large and growing multiethnic community,” or that people are doubling up in a hot job market where housing is expensive.
“We don’t know, but it suggests to me that it has now been going on long enough that we are seeing the emergence of new household types that are not the kind we’ve seen in the past,” Perlich said.
Nationally, median gross rents in counties of fewer than 20,000 people didn’t change much from the 2007-2011 to the 2012-2016 data. But where change occurred, 206 of the counties saw rent increase, compared with 71 where rent dropped.
Daggett’s dramatic rent decrease got a callout in the national press release on the overall American Community Survey data. Median gross rent dropped by more than half, from $878 to $338.
Perlich believes that may trace to the closing of Daggett's correctional facility, which was a major employer in the area and likely also drew inmate families to the area. “My question is, did that create enough of a disruption in the economy there? That’s the only thing I can think of that would explain excess housing and that significant change.”
The percent of people who lived in poverty within the past 12 months within the five-year estimates dropped in Beaver County from 18.9 percent to 11.7 percent. But it increased significantly in three counties: from 11.9 percent to 14.8 percent in Washington County, from 8.6 percent to 12 percent in Emery County and from 9.6 percent to 12.1 percent in Duchesne.
Perlich noted that those most likely to be in poverty are children and that it’s possible the Washington County numbers are driven by an influx of immigrant families. The growth of Dixie State University might impact those numbers, too. Of Emery and Duchesne, she noted, “the recession is not over in these natural-resource economies."
Among statistically significant highlights:
• Utah’s median household income increased from $61,605 to $62,518. Family median income increased from $70,037 to $71,058. Nationally, 17.9 percent of counties experienced a decline in median household income, while 3.2 percent saw incomes grow.
• Summit Park in Summit County, Utah, has one of the highest median household incomes among the small-population areas nationwide.
• Three Utah counties bucked the state trend of fewer households that contain minor children: Morgan County saw an increase from 43.4 percent to 46.2 percent, Tooele County from 44.9 percent to 46 percent and Beaver County from 34.3 percent to 40.1 percent.
• Across Utah, the share of the population 15 and older who have not married rose slightly, from 31.2 percent to 32.6 percent for males and 25.6 percent to 26.5 percent for females.Comment on this story
• The share of families with children younger than school age where both parents work was flat, but it decreased slightly from 62.1 percent to 61 percent for those with children ages 6 to 17. The biggest decreases in households with older kids were in Morgan County, where 72.4 percent of parents worked in 2007-2011 estimates but only 45.2 percent did in the new data, and in Cache County, where the share of all household parents working decreased from 63.3 percent to 57.5 percent.
Significant changes in parental employment among households with children younger than 6 were in Beaver County, where the rate dropped from 73.4 percent to 43 percent, and Juab County, where it dropped from 63.8 percent to 49.7 percent. In Iron County, the share increased, from 46.8 percent to 57.3 percent.
These data and more are online at https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/.