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In the next 50 years, Utah is projected to grow to 5.5 million residents, an increase of 83 percent from its population of 3 million now, according to new predictions by the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
They also foresee a big change coming amid that growth: Senior citizens are expected to replace children as the fastest-expanding sector of Utah's population and will outnumber them in about 40 years.
The state will even see its median age jump by nine years, to 39.5, meaning about half of Utahns will then be over 40.
"You can't just look at Utah as forever young," even though for years it maintained the nation's youngest median age by far, says Pam Perlich, director of demographics at the institute.
That means the state must pay attention to the education and health of today's young people, Perlich said, because "there is going to be a large elderly demographic burden that we will be asking them to shoulder."
The institute released the new projections for 2065 on Wednesday. It is the first such look into the state's future since 2012, in a project funded by the Legislature to help prioritize resources in such areas as education, transportation and water development.
Perlich said one of the most interesting findings is how much trends suggest the number of people older than 100 will grow.
"It's a big number," she said. It projects 6,844 centenarians in 50 years, up from 337 in 2015. "That's 20 times as many. … We're finding ways to keep people alive for a lot longer," plus Utah may attract more retirees to relocate over time.
The number of all seniors older than 65 is projected to double from 10.1 percent of the population now to about 21.3 percent in 50 years.
Meanwhile, trends predict that declining fertility rates in Utah will make school-age children a dwindling part of the population from 22.3 percent now to 16.9 percent in 2065.
Seniors will begin to outnumber children in about 40 years, according to the institute's predictions. While the percentage of schoolchildren in the overall population will decrease, their actual numbers still will rise.
The study predicts each Utah worker will need to support more people a half century from now because of the jump in the elderly and increasing numbers of children. In 2010, for every 100 people in Utah, 68.2 did not work because they were too young or too old. In 2060, that is projected to grow to 81 out of 100.
The projected Utah population of 5.5 million in 2065 would be the size of Minnesota today, growing an average of 1.2 percent a year during the five decades.
"It's a less rapid rate of growth than we've seen in previous projections since the Great Recession," Perlich said, "but we still expect Utah to grow more rapidly than the nation."
By comparison, Utah is expected to see its population rise by 76.6 percent through 2060 (the furthest available date for national projections), compared to 30.8 percent for the country.
Perlich sees many reasons for that greater-than-average growth.
"It's really driven by the economy," she said, noting that it attracts immigrants, which keeps growth up as fertility rates decline.
"We're seeing sufficient employment growth here that we're bringing people to the state," she said, suggesting people are also drawn by Utah's scenery, recreation and colleges and universities.
In addition, she noted, Utah is in the heart of the Mormon culture region, and its influence toward larger-than-average families will continue although sizes are shrinking compared with the past. "That population is maintaining its distinctiveness, but is still moving toward international trends for smaller family sizes."
Some other projections for the next 50 years include:
• Life expectancy is expected to rise by 4.5 years for women to 86.4 and by 7.1 years for men to 85.3, narrowing the gap normally seen between the sexes.
• Utah is projected to reach 4 million people in 2024 (19 years after it hit 3 million), 5 million in 2054 and 5.5 million in 2065.
• The number of households is expected to grow steadily, but average persons per household is projected to decrease from 2.99 in 2015 to 2.52 in 2065.
• Most major industries are projected to expand in the next 50 years, except military, utilities and farming.
• Analysts realize many factors may affect growth. Because of the uncertainty, the study provides low, middle and high scenarios. By 2065, the projected state population ranges from a low of 4.6 million to a high of 6.2 million.