Utah families: The key to economic success and the challenges ahead

Jul 19, 2023, 5:00 AM | Updated: Nov 7, 2023, 9:33 am

SALT LAKE CITY — As far as economic outlook goes, Utah is usually at or near the top. What’s our secret?

One report suggests that it’s Utah families, and that when Utah families flourish, Utah businesses and communities flourish with them. 

The report by Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and visiting scholar of the Sutherland Institute, dives into what makes Utah families unique.

Wilcox found that 82% of children in Utah are living in the homes of married couples. This is 7% higher than the national average. In Utah County, almost 90% of children live in a married-couple household.

However, there has been a decline. Both marriage rates and the full-time working rate is going down for young men, even here in Utah.

“I think we need to do a better job of forming our young women and young men to understand and appreciate how much full-time work matters as you’re getting started in life,” said Wilcox.

Overcoming challenges for Utah families

Even as Utah excels, these new challenges emerging might disrupt this modern economic miracle.

Smartphones, social media, and video games can disrupt traditional family structures and patterns that could potentially lead to a decline in socializing, marriage, and childbirth.

Wilcox said that this is mostly in young men and boys. He said, “[boys] are floundering in school, spending too much time playing video games, and not really growing up and being responsible, flourishing young men. 

“In this new report for the Southerland Institute, we articulate five different policy ideas, but the final one is to have the state inaugurate a commission on men and boys,” said Wilcox.

The goal of the commission would be to address how to change approaches to teaching to become more “boy-friendly” and to make sure that our schools, nationwide, are doing as much for boys as they are for girls.

Wilcox also stressed the need to give young men positive role models, “If we’re wanting to be serious about giving our young men a model of masculinity, we’ve got to be much more, intentional, about articulating norms, values, and aspirations that would be compelling to boys and young men as well.”

“If boys are not thriving, if young men are not thriving, that means to that, our girls, and our young women are going to be oftentimes upset with the options available to them.” said Wilcox.

What’s the key to success?

The short answer?

Hard work, education, and marriage.

“[There is a] very clear connection in the research between education, work, and marriage, and flourishing financially,” said Wilcox

He said there is also a fairly clear sequence to success for both financial security, a strong family foundation.

“The success sequence is this idea articulated by Bell Sahil and Ron Haskins, at Brookings a number of years ago that if you get at least a high school degree, work full-time in your 20s or early 20s, and get married before having kids, you’re much more likely to be flourishing financially,” Wilcox said.

“In particular, we see in the more recent data is that 97% of young adults in their late 20s and into their 30s, who follow those three steps are not poor. [In fact,] by the time they hit their late 20s and 30s, 86% of them have reached the middle class or higher.”

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Utah families: The key to economic success and the challenges ahead