A Pretty Great Stat 

A new book explores Utah’s most intriguing demographic numbers.

There’s an old debate about whether demography is destiny. While neither side has been able to absolutely prove its case, there can be no doubt that demography helps explain why Utah is a pretty odd place.

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The idiosyncrasies of the numbers that make up the Beehive State are explored in detail in Utah at the Beginning of the New Millenium: A Demographic Perspective, as 34 experts in various fields dig behind the digits to explain not only how things are around here, but where they are headed. On one hand, stereotypes about Utah are certainly to be found in the numbers: One study notes, “There is no escaping the fact that Utahns tend to be young, Republican, white and Mormon.” But in the hands of capable statisticians, even the most obvious trends can be brought into sharper focus.

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For example, everybody knows Utah is chock full of kids, but this book illustrates just how full. In fact, to find other societies with birthrates as high as Utah’s, one has to go beyond America’s borders to the Third World. One study points out, “Some portions of the state mirror age distribution of developing nations in that they are dominated by a very large fraction of young children.nn

Beyond showing that some stereotypes are well founded, the book’s introduction also points out, “It is equally true that numerous essential features of the population are steadily and profoundly altering the nature of Utah and its residents.” To this end, there are studies providing a picture of who’s moving in (more non-Mormons'who are also more likely to move out), how they’re doing here (Hispanic immigrants in Utah are more likely to own their homes than elsewhere in America), and the frustrations they face (it’s hard for a minority group to become a swing vote in a one-party state).

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It’s particularly interesting when experts take a garden-variety stat and break it down. It’s well known that Utahns tend to have longer life spans than other Americans but less well known that, within the state, active Mormons outlive inactive Mormons, who in turn outlive non-Mormons. The triple-whammy is that non-Mormons in Utah don’t live as long as the average American elsewhere. This observation can be tied in with another study that points out how those who don’t follow the dominant religion of a community often feel “isolation” that can lead to “anxiety or distress.” In other words, it’s not just the smoking and drinking that kills off Utah non-Mormons earlier; it’s the stress of having to listen to your co-workers blather all day about Relief Society and home teaching, which only makes you want to smoke and drink even more.

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While some sections come off as dry, academic and even timid, some of the professors included here aren’t afraid to play with the stats. The most entertaining chapter is Keith Bartholomew’s, which has a subsection titled, “Air Quality: On a Clear Day You Can See the Kennecott Smokestack.” Bartholomew looks at access to doughnuts, ice cream, coffee and beer. Why? “Amusingly, the U.S. Census Bureau keeps track of these things,” and has determined that having local places that provides them “can do a great deal for'or reflect to a significant degree about'the health and welfare of a neighborhood or community.” Not surprisingly, Utah lags far behind the rest of the nation in places to buy beer but is also surprisingly far below the national average in access to ice cream parlors, leading Bartholomew to conclude that Utah “really lags behind the rest of the country” in this “quality of life indicator.nn

Whether you choose ice cream or beer, from a variety of statistical standpoints, the demographics show that the best thing to be in Utah is an old, white Mormon dude. Funny'that’s who runs the place. Demography might not be destiny, but it can show how the numbers help perpetuate some of Utah’s stereotypes.

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UTAH AT THE BEGINNING OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM:
nA DEMOGRAPHIC PERSPECTIVE
nEdited by Cathleen D. Zick & Ken R. Smith
nUniversity of Utah Press
n2006
n270 pages
n$22.95

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