Utah: ‘A Snapshot of 2050’

Urban. Older. More diverse. Those are words used by the Utah Foundation to describe what the state’s population demographics could look like by the year 2050.


In its recent report, “A Snapshot of 2050, An Analysis of Projected Population Change,” the Utah Foundation says Utah has been one of the five fastest growing states since 2008, and projections of population growth range from one million to 2.5 million new residents by 2050. The analysis is the first in a series of population-related reports the Foundation will produce in 2014.

Who will these newcomers be? Where will they live? And why will they come here? Those are three questions the foundation’s analysis strives to answer.

Utah was the eighth most urban state in 2008, “and due to the constraints of both geography and land ownership, this trend is likely to continue,” according to the report. About 85 percent of Utah’s current, urban population lives along the Wasatch Front, and continued population concentration is expected there, especially within existing city centers, but at varying rates. Citing projections from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, the foundation predicts significant growth through new developments in areas of Utah, Summit and Wasatch Counties. Some cities within those three counties could experience more than 500 percent population growth.

Of Utah’s 29 counties, population projections indicate that nine will more than double in population by 2050. They are Cache, Iron, Juab, Kane, Morgan, Summit, Tooele, Wasatch and Washington. Utah County could see an increase of about 700,000 residents, while Washington County could see an increase of about 334,000 residents by 2050. Though a smaller percentage increase, Salt Lake County is projected to add another 630,000 residents during the same period.

Naturally, factors such as increased fuel costs, traffic congestion, air quality and available land will likely influence where development occurs, the report says. The demands on the housing market are changing with the shifting demographics. The Utah Foundation report cites a 2014 study on generational trends of homebuyers nationally, which showed that buyers over the age of 57 are increasingly buying units in townhouse, condo and senior developments versus younger buyers who overwhelmingly purchase detached, single-family houses.

Utah’s past population growth has largely been driven by natural increase–births minus deaths. “High birth rates and a healthy population have been the leading factors in population growth since 1998,” according to the report. Utah has the highest fertility rate in the nation and the youngest population. In 2012, more than half of the population was under the age of 30. While Utah’s fertility rate isn’t expected to change much, the report cites predictions by the Office of Management and Budget that Utah’s age structure will have flipped by 2050, thanks largely to aging baby boomers. “Those 60 years and older will become the fastest growing segment of the population,” the report notes.

Utah’s 65 and older population is projected to double by 2050, while the percentage of population 17 and younger is expected to decline. Although past in-migration hasn’t influenced the state’s population as significantly as its natural increase, future growth from in-migration could be significant, thanks to the state’s low cost of living, low unemployment and strong economic performance, which have created an incentive for people to relocate here.

The Utah Foundation says Utah has been at the top of many lists touting business development, recreation and technological advances. “Provo-Orem, Salt Lake City and Ogden-Clearfield [metros] all maintained spots on the Milken Institute Best Performing cities list in 2013, although their rankings have dropped since 2008,” says the report. Another list, the Equality of Opportunity Project, ranked Salt Lake City the most likely city in which individuals can achieve the American dream “through intergenerational economic mobility based upon factors such as job opportunities, social capital and connections to alternative transportation.”

Opportunities for intergenerational mobility provide families with a place where future generations can do better economically than those preceding them, which the report says could be an unrecognized reason people are drawn to Utah. According to the 2012 Hachman Index, Utah has the fourth most diverse economy in the nation, with an “industry structure that mirrors 97 percent that of the United States.”

As its population grows, Utah will also become more diverse. About four fifths of Utah’s current population is white, but according to the report , the state’s racial diversity is shifting slowly toward the national average. The proportion of white, non-Hispanic members of the Utah population has decreased steadily since the 1980 Census. In Salt Lake County, it is projected that the population will be comprised of more than 40 percent racial and ethnic minorities by 2050,” the report notes.

The where, who and why of population growth in the state will also affect the quality of life for future Utahns. Factors such areas of future new development and redevelopment must be addressed, along with public resources like water, transportation, energy and schools.

“The prospect of future growth creates space for discussion about how Utah will handle new residents,” the report notes. “Increasing variability of water source and supply, additional people utilizing public resources such as transportation and utilities, and additional children being added to an already stressed school system are three key reasons why planning for the future is a key step in ensuring the continued quality of life people expect in Utah.” To help inform the research process, the Utah Foundation says it is participating in the “Your Utah, Your Future” visioning effort for 2050.

Certainly, growth is nothing new to Utahns. The state population nearly tripled between 1970 and 2013, growing from 1.1 million to an estimated 2.9 million people, according to the Utah Foundation. This “has resulted in a more urban Utah, a more diverse population and a diversified economy.” And managing the future “population tsunami” is of significant concern to organizations like the Utah Foundation, Envision Utah, state government and local cities and counties.