UTAH IN 2065

By Brooke Adams, communications specialist, University Marketing and Communications

Pamela S. Perlich is director of Demographic Research at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. Her team has just produced its first set of long-term demographic projections for Utah. These are discussed in a policy brief, “The Beehive Shape: Provisional 50-Year Demographic and Economic Projections for the State of Utah, 2015-2065,” which contains a number of startling findings as far as what Utah will look like in the future. In this interview, Dr. Perlich describes how Utah is anticipated to change in coming decades and what is involved in making these data-rich demographic projections.

Q: What are the highlights of your projections?

A: We found that, for the foreseeable future, the population of Utah will continue to grow and at a rate about double that of the nation. Growth rates are moderating as compared to the past 50 years — principally because of more moderate rates of economic growth and a continued slow decline in fertility. In our baseline projection, which we view as our most likely future, we reach a population of 5.5 million in 2065, almost doubling from the 2015 population of 3 million. This growth will come from both natural increase (births exceeding deaths) and net in-migration (more people moving into the state than leaving).

Utah’s median age is projected to increase by nearly 10 years by 2065, from the current 30.5 years to 39.5 years. We also project increasing life expectancy, with that of males increasing by 7.1 years and that of females increasing by 4.5 years over the projection period. Although aging, the Utah population should remain among the youngest in the nation as compared to other states. That said, the share of the population ages 65 and over doubles from 10.2 percent to 21.3 percent. This population of elders is projected to nearly quadruple from 305,461 in 2015 to 1.18 million in 2065. In contrast, the school-age population (ages 5 through 17) is projected to increase by about 1.4 times (40 percent).

The combined effects result in more households, but a decline in the number of persons per household from 2.99 in 2015 to 2.52 in 2065.

Q: Is there any one finding that you find particularly remarkable?

A: Yes! We project that the number of persons at least 100 years old will increase from 337 in 2015 to 6,844 by 2065. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that population projections for Utah have been produced by single year of and sex for ages beyond the age of 85. So this is the first time we have been able to compare this single year of age and sex population pyramid, including the very elderly. What we see is the pyramid change from one that is a cone shape to one that is much more like a beehive.

Q: Who uses this information and how?

A: Population projections have a wide range of planning and investment applications, including informing transportation and water infrastructure decisions, and program planning for public and higher education, social services, home building, health care and others. Understanding the fact that the age structure is becoming much more dominated by those ages 65 years and older, rather than youth, has enormous implications for the future of our state.

Q: Tell us about your team and the process involved in producing this report.

A: Assembling, building and developing the team has been a remarkable process. The team was involved in selecting each new member. We are a small team, with three demographers (sociologists) and two geographers who worked at my direction building models, assembling data sets and developing the necessary estimates. Besides being accomplished scholars and researchers, I looked for individuals who could work well together and were also intellectually adventurous and curious. I provided the general blueprint for our model system, but left many of the particulars to be invented in this organic team process. It has been a richly rewarding experience for me, as I have spent most of my career working as an independent scholar and teacher.

We custom built a cohort component model with an economic driver. Fertility, mortality and migration were extensively researched and rigorously modeled. We have the ability to incorporate all kinds of specialized assumptions and data concerning various types of migration (such as student, retirement, LDS missionaries and labor market). We produced three scenarios to identify the reasonable ranges for future populations. These are intended to capture the uncertainty that is the inescapable reality of life and projections.

Q: What is next for your team?

A: We have already embarked on developing a multiregional model to produce county-level projections for Utah. We have the added complexities of local characteristics, such as counties with universities and commuting. This work will be released in July 2017.

To read the full brief, click here.