Utah’s Fast-Growing Population Has Negative Environmental Impacts, U Professor Says


By Stevie Shaughnessey, Home Stretch Producer, Host


Utah has been the fastest-growing state since 2010 with nearly 24% growth in the last 13 years, according to the World Population Review. In 2022 alone, there was a 1.25% growth, with the state population totaling just over 3.4 million.

According to Steve Bannister, an associate professor of economics at the University of Utah, this population growth is happening for two reasons: migration from other states and the high birth rate in Utah.

Why is the Population Still Growing?

While Utah used to have a higher birth rate, the rate at which children are being born has decreased dramatically over the past few years, said Bannister. The fertility rate, which is the average number of children a woman will have in her life, dropped from 2.29 in 2015 to 1.92 in 2022.

“Most people think that the dominant religion is very supportive of having large families historically and many of the women in that religion have responded positively to that,” Bannister said. “The message of [the total fertility rate number shows that] those days are over, they’re gone.”

Despite this decrease in birth rate, the population continues to rise because of migration from other states to Utah, said Derek Hoff, an associate professor in the school of business at the U.

“Migration from other states — because people want to ski and we’re in a beautiful place — and immigration create what’s called population momentum, so that even as the fertility rate goes down you still have natural population growth,” Hoff said.

Bannister explained the pandemic caused lots of people to migrate to Utah from other states because of the scenery and the opportunity to work remotely, but many agricultural workers immigrated to Utah for seasonal work, taking jobs that Utahns usually don’t.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, most people migrating to Utah were from California and Texas, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Economic Gain from Population Growth

Many colleges and businesses are encouraging this population growth in Utah, according to Hoff, but others who are less focused on business are saying that the growing population in Utah is harming the state and the current residents.

“Many would argue we don’t need any more people because our lake is drying up, our canyons are clogged, powder days aren’t what they used to be,” Hoff said. “But if you’re an institution like the University of Utah, you’re thinking, ‘Let’s grow 3% a year to meet our targets,’ and that’s the way President [Taylor] Randall thinks and the way a lot of business builders at Utah Lake think.”

Bannister said as the population continues to grow, Utah will begin to see negative effects on the environment and other man-made assets as the state becomes crowded and more people have to be supported.

“As we get more and more pressure on all of these resources, whether the parks or recreation resources, the highway system, especially a new car, water … the quality of life for the people living here can diminish,” Bannister said.

Bannister added legislators and Utah politicians continue to support migration to the state for business purposes and for personal gain, despite the negative effects of population growth already being seen in the state.

“Most of the people in the legislature are on the side of continued growth,” Bannister said. “A lot of people in the legislature are real estate people, so they make money from developing real estate, and the more people that the population provides, the more development is going to be needed to take care of them.”

Population growth means more people, according to Hoff, but just because Utah has a larger population doesn’t mean that the economy will get better.

“The data on whether we all get rich on a per capita basis with population growth is kind of messy and noisy,” Hoff said. “That’s not what causes economic growth in today’s world. What causes economic growth is ideas and human capital innovations, not whether we stuffed more bodies onto the planet.”

As the population growth in Utah persists, Hoff predicted the environment will ultimately deteriorate, and what makes Utah so beautiful will no longer exist.

“We’re going to continue to degrade our natural environment and we’re going to contribute in our little corner of the world to frying the Earth,” Hoff said.


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