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Utah retains title as 'youngest' state as U.S. population continues to age

Deseret News logo Deseret News 6/30/2022 Carter Williams
Homes on Provo’s east bench are pictured on June 23. The Provo-Orem metropolitan area was the youngest metro area in the nation in 2021, according to a new Census Bureau report. © Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News Homes on Provo’s east bench are pictured on June 23. The Provo-Orem metropolitan area was the youngest metro area in the nation in 2021, according to a new Census Bureau report.

Not that it's much of a surprise, but Utah continues to hold its title as the nation's youngest state even as the U.S. population continues to age, according to a new report released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The federal agency released 2021 population demographic characteristics for the country on Thursday, adding more context to the state and county population estimates that it released in March. Overall, the report finds that Utah's population is slowly growing and becoming a little more diverse, mirroring trends happening across the country.

Utah retains its youth title, but it's getting older

Utah's median age of 31.8 years places it a full seven years younger than the nationwide average of 38.8 years, according to the new data. In fact, the Beehive State's median age bests the District of Columbia by about 3.1 years to beat every other U.S. state or territory again in 2021. The Census Bureau estimates that over 28% of the state's population was between the ages of 0 and 18 on July 1, 2021, which helped bring the average age down.

Utah County just missed cracking the top five among all counties with a population age of 25.6 years. The Provo-Orem metropolitan area within the county is the youngest among all U.S. metro areas, though, with an average age of 25.7 years.

The bureau previously reported that Utah County was Utah's fastest-growing county in the state, gaining 21,843 residents between 2020 and 2021. Its growth placed 10th among all counties across the country.

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That said, Utah isn't immune to the characteristics across the nation. Its average age rose by 0.3, matching the national average from 2020 to 2021.

The number of residents under 18 years old dropped by a total of a little over 2,000 from 2020 to 2021 despite an overall population increase of a little over 56,000. The share of Utahns younger than 18 also dropped by a half of a percentage point in just one year.

While the U.S. average age has risen every year since 2000, gaining 3.4 years over that span, last year provided the largest single-year jump over the past two decades. The bureau estimated that the U.S. had its slowest nationwide population growth ever between 2020 and 2021.

Kristie Wilder, a demographer in the Census Bureau's population division, says the increasing median age is partially the result of declining birth rates, a trend that experts have previously noted. It began about the same time as the recession that emerged at the end of this century's first decade.

"With birth rates trending downwards and the aging of the Baby Boom and Generation X cohorts, the median age will likely continue to rise in the coming years," she said.

Only Maine, which dipped from 44.8 years to 44.7 years, experienced a decline in average age. Yet the Pine Tree State's population remains the oldest in the nation. The average age in Montana (40.1), New Hampshire (43) and West Virginia (42.8) remained the same, while the average age in every other state rose.

A map of age difference by U.S. between July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021. The U.S. average age jumped by 0.3 years, according to the Census Bureau © U.S. Census Bureau A map of age difference by U.S. between July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021. The U.S. average age jumped by 0.3 years, according to the Census Bureau

These data sets also offer insight into why some of the country's larger cities, like the massive New York-Newark-Jersey City and San Francisco-Oakland-Berkely metropolitan areas, shrank in population last year.

The Census Bureau found that both areas suffered big losses in people in their 20s and 30s, though both groups still account for the plurality of the population. In New York County's case, it lost 6.6% of its population from July 1, 2020, to July 1, 2021; however, its population loss among residents between the ages of 20 and 34 was a much larger, 13.6%.

This wasn't as much of an issue for Utah's most-populated county, Salt Lake County, despite the bureau's previous report that estimated it only grew by 185 people in 2021. The new data show that its population of people between the ages of 25 and 44 rose slightly by 0.04% over the span of a year, about four times the rate of the entire county's population growth.

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Utah, U.S. slowly becoming more diverse

The new Census Bureau data also offers a window into new gender, race and ethnicity information within Utah's 2021 population estimates.

Males accounted for 51.3% of the new population growth of over 56,000 people, meaning that there's still a slight 50.6% to 49.4% difference in males to females in the state, according to the bureau.

The data also shows a slight increase in racial diversity, as the country also becomes more diverse. While the population of all listed races and ethnicities grew in the state over the span of the year, the bureau lists a 3% increase in Hispanic residents, resulting in a slight 0.2% increase in the proportion of Hispanic residents compared to non-Hispanic residents. Residents listed of Hispanic origin account for 14.8% of the state's population.

Meanwhile, the number of people listed as white alone rose by 1.5% statewide, accounting for about 90.3% of the state's population. This total percentage is down about 0.1% from the 2020 estimate. The St. George metro area is listed as the fastest-growing white population, rising by 5.1%. But St. George also led all metro areas in total population increase between 2020 and 2021.

Across the country, white alone accounts for about 78.3% of the nation's population — a slight decline of about 0.03% from last year, as the country also becomes a little more diverse. All other races and ethnicities sported population increases between 2020 and 2021; the country's Hispanic-origin population also rose by 1.2% from the July 1, 2020, population estimate.

At 1.5% total, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander had the fastest population increase among races in the country, according to the bureau.

All of the 2021 population demographic data can be found online on the Census Bureau website.

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