New family life report: Utah leads on structure, but warning signs shadow home life

Today, the Utah Foundation releases the fourth report in its Utah Social Capital Series with The Comforts of Home: Family Life in Utah. This installment focuses on family; the previous installments focused on civic engagement, social trust and community life.

The Comforts of Home presents data and analysis on seven metrics: the share of adults aged 35 to 64 currently married; share of births to married women; the share of children living in a single-parent family; the share of children age five and under who are read to every day; TV viewing by children from 0 to 17; time spent on electronic devices for the same age group; and the share of families eating a meal together daily. It looks at Utah’s performance on these measures over time, comparing the Beehive State both to the seven other Mountain States and to the nation at large.

Among the findings of the new report:

  • By a clear margin, Utah has the nation’s highest proportion of currently married adults in the nation. Neighboring Idaho and Wyoming occupy the next two spots
  • Utah enjoys a far higher proportion of births to married women compared to the nation at large. In Utah in 2020, 81% of births were to married women, versus 59% nationally. Neighboring Idaho and Colorado are second and third.
  • The share of Utah children in single-parent families is far lower than the national average. As of 2019, only 16% of Utah children lived in such families – the lowest in the nation. Nationally, the proportion was 27%. Neighboring Wyoming and Idaho were also among the healthiest in the nation on this metric.
  • The pandemic dramatically reversed some negative trends in family activities in Utah.
  • Prior to the pandemic, Utah languished in the bottom 10 states in reading to young children, and it had been in rapid decline. However, the pandemic year 2020 reversed this trend dramatically, sending Utah just above the national average.
  • Prior to the pandemic, Utah saw an alarming decline in families eating together daily. While most Mountain States perform well on this metric, Utah’s decline had led it down to the nation’s 11th worst by 2019. However, in 2020, Utah’s massive rebound outperformed the increase nationally, putting the state into the top 10 for family meals.
  • Though recreational electronic device use among Utah youth was below average prior to the pandemic, it had been rising rapidly since 2011. In 2020, Utah fell into the lowest-using 10 states nationally. However, this was mainly because the increases in youth electronic media use in other states surpassed the increase in Utah. In fact, the increase in Utah in 2020 was significant.
  • While Utah families may be well-formed, the interactions within those families have for years been of poor and declining quality. Unless Utah can hold on to the 2020 turnaround on family meals and reading – and tamp down recreational technology usage among youth – the consequences for children will play out over time and may have negative effects on future family life.

Utah Foundation President Peter Reichard said parents should pay close attention to time spent reading and in family meals, and tightly control electronic device usage. He noted that “there’s only so much time in the day, and families need to work intently to make sure it’s well-spent.”

“It can be uncomfortable at times to discuss aspects of family life, but a society that avoids the subject does so at its peril,” Reichard added. “Strong families are the building blocks of a strong society, not to mention a thriving economy.”

The Comforts of Home: Family Life in Utah is attached hereto and will be available today on the Utah Foundation website at Special thanks to the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation and the Lawrence T. & Janet T. Dee Foundation for providing project-based support to the Utah Social Capital Series.