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    Where do Utahns live? It ain’t in the country

    By Dennis Romboy,

    29 days ago
    People walk on a sidewalk in downtown Salt Lake City on Oct. 10, 2022. A new analysis found that 9 out of 10 Utahns live in an urban area. | Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

    If you regularly drive the I-15 corridor on the Wasatch Front, this won’t surprise you: Nine out of 10 Utahns live in an urban area.

    A new analysis by the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute used Census Bureau data to contrast socioeconomic differences between urban and rural Utah. While each of the state’s 29 counties have some rural residents, ranging from 1% to 82%, 11 counties are considered completely rural.

    “Utah’s urban and rural residents share similar income levels, household types and educational attainment but vary in age profile and racial and ethnic makeup,” said Mallory Bateman, director of demographic research at the Gardner Institute. “Health metrics and housing dynamics highlight differences in the life experiences of Utah’s urban and rural residents.”

    Utah’s urban areas make up only 1.1% of the state’s land. As of 2024, the Beehive State was home to just over 3.4 million people.

    About 46 million people live in rural America, representing 14% of the total U.S. population, according to the most recent Census Bureau and USDA Economic Research Service data. In general, rural areas are sparsely populated, have low housing density and are far from urban centers. Urban areas make up only 3% of the entire land area of the country but are home to more than 80% of the population. Conversely, 97% of the country’s land mass is rural but only 19.3% of the population lives there, according the Census Bureau.

    Married with children

    Gardner found urban and rural Utah have similar shares of married couples with children, but married couples without children are more prevalent in rural areas. Non-family households, in which an individual lives alone or with unrelated roommates, are more common in urban areas. Urban areas also include higher shares of one-, three-, four-person households, while two-person households are more prevalent in rural parts of the state.

    Rural Utahns are less racially and ethnically diverse than urban Utahns, with 14% of residents identifying as a racial or ethnic minority compared to 24% in urban areas. A higher share of rural residents identify as American Indian, but fewer identify as other non-white racial groups and Hispanic or Latino residents.

    Rural Utahns also are older than urban Utahns, with a median age of 34.9 compared to 30.9 in urban areas. Compared to urban Utah, rural Utah’s population includes a higher share of children under 18 and a higher share of adults 65 and older.

    Life expectancy also differs between rural and urban Utah. Residents in rural areas have the longest life expectancy of 80 years, while life expectancy for urbanites is 79.6 years.

    Home, sweet home

    The 164,000 housing units in rural Utah represent 14.5% of the state’s housing stock, according to the study. While residents occupy 94.3% of housing units in urban areas, only 72.6% of units in rural Utah are occupied. The remaining 27.4% of rural housing units are vacant or seasonal, totaling almost 45,000 units. Over three-quarters of those vacant units are intended for seasonal or recreational use.

    Rural Utah features a higher share of owner-occupied units and single-family homes than urban Utah. Owner-occupied units make up 68.8% of the housing units in urban areas but 83.9% of units in rural areas. Similarly, one-unit detached homes compose 81.3% of housing structures in rural areas but only 66% of structures in urban areas.

    Rural homes are more likely to be newer construction. Only 12.1% of housing units in urban areas were built in 2010 or later, compared to 24.1% of rural housing units. Also, 45.9% of urban renters devote more than 30% of their income to paying rent, a financial strain experienced by 37.2% of rural renters.

    Working for a living

    The unemployment rate in both urban and rural Utah is the same at 3.5%, but a lower percentage of rural residents are employed or seeking work than urban residents. Among rural residents ages 20 to 64, 76.6% participate in the labor force, compared to 80.9% of urban Utahns. Urban households earn higher incomes up to the $50,000 to $74,999 income category, but rural households earn higher incomes for groups $75,000 and above, the analysis found.

    Rural Utahns also work in a different mix of industries than those in urban areas. Rural workers are especially likely to be employed in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting or mining; construction; public administration; and transportation and warehousing, and utilities.

    Though rural workers make up 10.6% of employed workers age 16 and older, 12.3% of Utah workers employed by the government live in rural areas. Rural Utahns are also more likely to work from home than urban Utahns. In rural areas, 14% of workers reported working from home, compared to 11.5% of urban workers.

    Getting smart

    While over 90% of both rural and urban Utahns have a high school diploma or higher, there are slight differences in secondary education attainment between the two populations. Over one-third (35.8%) of urban residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 32.5% of rural Utahns, according to the report. One-in-four rural residents and 22.3% of urban residents have a high school degree as their highest level of education.

    In urban and rural Utah, men are more likely than women to hold bachelor’s degrees or higher, even though women are slightly more likely to have finished high school.

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