Census: Share of Utah's Mormon residents holds steady

Census: Declining trend pauses during tough economy.

The Salt Lake Tribune/April 15, 2012

For nearly two decades, Utah's population continued to rise while the percentage of its people who are Mormon slowly and steadily declined. Then the recession hit, jobs dried up and people hunkered down.

Utah's population is 62.2 percent LDS and that percentage hasn't moved much in the past three years.

That makes sense to Pam Perlich, a demographer for the University of Utah, who says the state has become less Mormon over time because people of other persuasions have moved here for economic opportunities.

"And we haven't had much migration to the state in three or four years," she noted.

The census estimates that Utah added 40,800 residents in 2011, but less than 10 percent of them were people moving here.

That means the growth in population is all about Utahns having babies and in this scenario, "you would assume there would be more stability in characteristics," said Juliette Tennert, the state's chief economist.

Utah was 62.1 percent LDS in 2009 and 2010, with a tiny bump in 2011, which Perlich calls statistically irrelevant because of potential sampling errors.

"It's flat," she said

And many counties saw only slight changes, if any, although Utah's two largest counties appear headed in opposite directions. Salt Lake County, with more than 1 million residents, went from 51.6 percent Mormon in 2009 to 51.4 percent in 2011.

Utah County, with a population of 530,500 residents, went from 80.9 percent in 2009 to 81.2 percent last year.

Perlich suggested Utah County's modest gain could be attributed to Utah Valley University's spike in enrollment after turning into a four-year institution. It has a predominantly Mormon student body, who are in their childbearing years.

Utah County added 10,450 residents from July 1, 2010, to July 1, 2011, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said 9,315 of them are members of that faith, accounting for nearly 90 percent of the total growth.

Salt Lake County added 15,075 residents and 7,324 of them are Mormons, or about 48.6 percent of the total.

If these trends hold, Utah County would become more LDS over time and Salt Lake County would eventually become minority Mormon. The state now has four counties where less than half of its residents are on the LDS Church rolls. They are Carbon, Grand, San Juan and Summit.

Utah County is one of just three counties that top the 80 percent threshold, with the others being northern Utah's Morgan and Rich.

The Salt Lake Tribune tracks the Mormon population using county-level membership numbers the church gives to state officials for demographic purposes.

The numbers include everyone on LDS membership rolls, which includes people who do not consider themselves Mormons or people who were lost "in transit." The LDS Church counts people who move in their last known address until they are either located or until they would have reached the age of 110.

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