Blog Post

‘What to Expect When You’re not Expecting’

By: Natalie Gochnour

Originally published in the Deseret News

In a very real way, June means weddings. The end of school and great weather motivate young couples to tie the knot and schedule summer weddings.

Back in the old days, summer weddings meant an uptick in births 10 months later. This is less true today. Utah’s fertility rate is at a historic low, and state demographers are asking, “What to expect when no one’s expecting?”

I didn’t come up with that clever turn of phrase. Journalist Jonathan Last wrote a book with that title, which is a twist of the title from a popular book written for expectant mothers. In his book, Last presents evidence about America’s falling fertility. He argues that white, college-educated Americans have put into practice their version of China’s one-child policy. He points out that if it weren’t for immigration, the U.S. population would be shrinking.

Utah is different. We continue to have the highest fertility rate in the nation. Births still outnumber deaths in Utah by approximately 33,000 each year. But things are changing here too, and Utah’s declining fertility rate is one of the most interesting demographic trends to watch.

Utah’s total fertility rate, which is a measure of births per woman, has fallen from 4.3 in 1960 at the tail end of the Baby Boom to 2.3 today. The rate has fallen for eight consecutive years and now stands at a historic low. We are becoming more like the nation. So much so that the old Utah wedding joke may not apply anymore. (For those of you who don’t know the joke it goes like this: “How do you tell a Utah wedding? The bride is NOT pregnant, but the mother of the bride is!”)

Unpacking Utah’s declining fertility rate is a lot like unpacking the nation’s. Advances in birth control (most notably the oral contraceptive pill), increasing female participation in the labor force and rising educational attainment of women are a few o