Ask those even vaguely informed about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints what a “Mormon” is, and they’ll likely associate members with the US state of Utah, which is home to the church’s official headquarters. Even before statehood, Utah has had a high population of Mormons, higher than any other state in the nation. Although people of this religion do hold a majority in the state, the majority of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) reside outside the US.
On 24 July 1847, then church president Brigham Young, after an arduous trip across the plains, looked out over the Salt Lake Valley and declared, “This is the place,” and the first group set their roots down. They had fled deadly persecution from Missouri, Ohio, and Illinois, and had finally found what they thought would be a place of safety and security. Their descendents would come to be known by some as “Utah Mormons.”
Contrary to popular belief, LDS members do not have the stronghold in Utah as they once had. Though the state has enjoyed a 29% increase in overall population from 1990 to 2000, the Mormon portion of the total population is slightly decreasing. Many believe that this may be due to a thriving economy that attracts non-Mormons from around the country, including immigrants from Mexico, as well as many moving to the region for what may be a lower cost of living. Beautiful geography and good weather coupled with many clean living neighbors may also be an attraction.
In 2006, it was revealed that the Mormons' portion of Utah's total population has actually decreased, and that if current trends continue, by 2030 the LDS population will lose its majority. Although estimates that members of this group comprise approximately 70% of the population have been bandied about, the number is closer to 62.4% (2004). Because this is based on church membership records and not actual church attendance records, the number of people who practice the faith in Utah may be much lower.
The primary reason there are so many Mormons in Utah is, of course, due to the fact that it became a veritable mecca for members all around the world. While the church experienced rapid growth throughout the world over the last century, many members in other countries have moved to Utah to escape less than tolerant homelands, or just because they wanted to live amongst other people who share their faith. Another reason may be due to the fact that people of this religion tend to have more children. In Utah in the 1960s, the birth rate was 4.3 children per woman. Today, that rate in Utah is much lower, though higher than the national average, at 2.6 children per woman.
While the Mormon population in Utah may be on the decline and being redistributed throughout the rest of the nation, the group has undeniably left an indelible mark on the state of Utah today, as well as its history.