Family is the basic building-block of society and a core component of social capital. To the extent that families are stable, the larger civilization benefits from greater social stability. To the extent that family connections are strong, the members of that family will tend to enjoy stronger social capital and related socio-economic benefits.
This installment in the Utah Social Capital Series seeks to measure family stability. We do so using seven metrics: the share of adults aged 35 to 64 currently married; share of births to married women; the share of children living in a single-parent family; the share of children age five and under who are read to every day; TV viewing by children 17 and under; time spent on electronic devices for the same age group; and the share of families eating a meal together daily.
The Comforts of Home looks at Utah’s performance on these measures over time, comparing the Beehive State both to the seven other Mountain States and to the nation at large.
KEY FINDINGS OF THIS REPORT
- By a clear margin, Utah has the nation’s highest proportion of currently married adults in the nation. Neighboring Idaho and Wyoming occupy the next two spots
- Utah enjoys a far higher proportion of births to married women compared to the nation at large. In Utah in 2020, 81% of births were to married women, versus 59% nationally. Neighboring Idaho and Colorado are second and third.
- The share of Utah children in single-parent families is far lower than the national average. As of 2019, only 16% of Utah children lived in such families – the lowest in the nation. Nationally, the proportion was 27%. Neighboring Wyoming and Idaho were also among the best in the nation on this metric.
- The pandemic dramatically reversed some negative trends in family activities in Utah.
- Prior to the pandemic, Utah languished in the bottom 10 states in reading to young children, and it had been in rapid decline. However, the pandemic year 2020 reversed this trend dramatically, sending Utah just above the national average.
- Prior to the pandemic, Utah saw an alarming decline in families eating together daily. While most Mountain States perform well on this metric, Utah’s decline had led it down to the nation’s 11th worst by 2019. However, in 2020, Utah’s massive rebound outperformed the increase nationally, putting the state into the top 10 for family meals.
- Though recreational electronic device use among Utah youth was below average prior to the pandemic, it had been rising rapidly since 2011. In 2020, Utah fell into the lowest-using 10 states nationally. However, this was mainly because the increases in youth electronic media use in other states surpassed the increase in Utah. In fact, the increase in Utah in 2020 was significant.
- While Utah families may be well-formed, the interactions within those families have for years been of poor and declining quality. Unless Utah can hold on to the 2020 turnaround on family meals and reading – and tamp down recreational technology usage among youth – the consequences for children will play out over time and may have negative effects on future family life.