Utah's Mormon population shrinking

Associated Press/July 24, 2005

Salt Lake City -- Utah's population of Mormons - members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - and their dominate status in the state is slipping.

Statistics project that within three years, the state population will have it's lowest share of Mormons since the church started keeping membership numbers.

If the trend persists, by 2030, church members will no longer be a Utah majority, the Salt Lake Tribune reported in a copyright story Sunday.

The projections are based on the normally secret membership counts which church officials give to the Utah Office of Planning and Budget. The office uses the numbers to make population projections.

The newspaper obtained the numbers through a public records request. The data covers the period between 1989 and 2004 - the years office staff could find.

Still the 15-year window provides a picture of what could be a historic transformation of the state population.

''Utah is essentially becoming more like the nation,'' said Robert Spendlove, the planning office's lead demographer.

Such a shift in the dominance of the Mormon church could alter civic discourse in Utah, although academics say the change will take time.

''The core LDS population will always be a force here. In your lifetime, I am sure it is not going to change that much,'' said University of Utah sociologist Theresa Martinez said. ''It will probably be more diverse but the power structures will probably remain the same.''

The numbers also show that the long-held belief that Utah's population is 70 percent Mormon is not true, nor has been for a decade.

Data from 2004 shows the actually percentage is 62 percent, with each of the state's 29 counties showing a decrease in its Mormon population.

Church officials declined an interview request from the newspaper, but issued a written statement: ''The church has always extended a hand of friendship and fellowship to those of other faiths, and will continue to do so.''

It did say the count comprises ''all members'' - including children under age 8, the age of Mormon baptism, as well as nonpracticing members.

Tim Heaton studies demographics at the church owned Brigham Young University, says the county numbers most likely come from church membership rolls. Up to half of those people are likely not active in the church, he said.

If that's true, then just 41.6 percent of Utahns are churchgoing Mormons.

Utah's population diversification is a reflection of the state's economy, Pam Perlich of the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research said.

''When economic growth goes up, minority population goes up, and this is kind of a code word for non-Mormons,'' she said.

A similar trend was seen with the mining boom of the 1990s and steady, overall economic growth has made jobs, not religion, the reason people move to Utah.

Gov. Jon Huntsman calls the trend ''largely predictable,'' and says he expects the shift will eventually bring political change. He also thinks its evidence of the success of the church of which Huntsman is a member.

''The LDS Church becomes more internationalized, the state of Utah becomes more internationalized,'' Huntsman said. ''We become more attractive to all people, not just people from one particular religion, and I think that will continue to be the trend going forward.''

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