The Utah Foundation’s Quality of Life Index

The following is a guest post sent in by Morgan Lyon Cotti, Senior Research Analyst at the Utah Foundation.

It is often said that Utahns enjoy a high quality of life, and many people live here their entire lives. Those who do leave the state for education or employment reasons often return some years later, and people from outside the state say they move here because of the states beauty, or ample opportunities for recreation. It is not just Utahns who have noticed this; Forbes Magazine and other organizations often rank Utah as one of the best places in the country to live or work. What is it that makes Utah such an appealing place to live?

To better understand the quality of life in Utah, and the factors that contribute to or detract from it, Utah Foundation collaborated with Intermountain Healthcare to create the Utah Foundation Quality of Life Index. The Index was created by surveying Utahns about 20 factors that influence quality of life. The survey was conducted by Lighthouse Research by phone, and 621 interviews were completed. Each factor was carefully selected based on an extensive literature review of other quality of life surveys, a focus group in which participants discussed the many important elements of quality of life, and discussion among experts regarding this topic. These factors represented a broad array of issues, ranging from jobs and education to parks and shopping. Survey respondents rated each factor on a five-point scale, with one signifying the poorest quality and five being best. The averages of these scores were then calculated to create scores and an overall index, with a possible 100 points for each. Using this methodology, the first biennial Utah Foundation’s Quality of Life Index stands at 77.2 for 2011.

In addition, Utah Foundation rated the quality or performance of each the 20 factors. In the assessment of quality, Utahns gave the highest ratings to: availability of spiritual/religious activities, natural surroundings, good parks, good stores, and higher education. Survey respondents were also asked about the importance of each factor in influencing their quality of life. In this assessment, it was found that the factors Utahns feel are most important to their quality of life are: safety and security from crime, public schools, air and water quality, healthcare, and opportunities for good jobs.

Utah Foundation Quality of Life Index
Importance Score Quality Score
Infrastructure & Vital Services 85.6 75.4
Safety & Security 92.7 80.0
Public Schools 90.7 73.5
Air & Water Quality 89.4 75.6
Quality Healthcare 89.0 82.2
Higher Education 86.7 83.5
Traffic Conditions 78.4 66.5
Public Transportation 72.1 66.9
Economic Vitality 86.0 71.8
Jobs 88.1 62.2
Affordability Other Living Costs 86.1 71.2
Good Affordable Housing 85.8 69.0
Good Stores 83.9 85.0
Social Characteristics 78.9 77.0
People Support & Help 85.8 80.2
People Accepting of Differences 84.4 72.2
Family Nearby 73.8 80.2
People Share Values 71.4 75.4
Cultural/Recreational Opportunities 80.6 84.8
Spiritual / Religious Activities 80.8 89.4
Recreational & Cultural Events 80.4 80.1
Physical Surroundings 82.4 83.5
Good Parks 84.7 85.2
Natural Surroundings 84.4 87.4
Buildings & Streets 78.0 77.8
Utah Foundation Quality of Life Index 77.2

The dichotomy between the types of factors that Utahns felt were of high importance, and those that were of high quality is pronounced. The items that were of highest importance are all things that can be considered a part of Utah’s infrastructure and economic vitality, and can be affected by government and public policy. Beyond that, they are also things voters are concerned about and want their governments to handle. Each gubernatorial election, Utah Foundation conducts a survey as part of our Utah Priorities Project, in which voters are asked what they think the most important issues in the election should be. In the last three elections, the items at the top of the Utah Priorities list are very similar to those at the top of the quality of life index, such as jobs, education, water supply and quality, crime and security and healthcare. In addition, when these things are performing poorly, voters blame (and often punish) elected leaders.

This was in stark contrast to those factors that performed well in quality. As the survey was drafted, there was a feeling among the researchers that factors such as living near family, access to recreation, or living near people who share similar values would be very important. These are all in line with anecdotes we had heard about why people move to Utah and were consistent with some of our own personal experiences. Instead, we found the factors that had to do with the physical surroundings of Utah or its cultural or recreational opportunities were not as important to Utahns as were factors that had to do with infrastructure and vital services or the economy. In addition, factors that had to do with Utah’s social characteristics, like living near family or with people who share your values, weren’t deemed to be of very high quality or high importance.

So why is there such a large gap between those things Utahns think are important and those that are of high quality? One possible answer is that people are generally unhappy with the factors that government controls. Government in general usually has low approval ratings, while the ratings of individual elected leaders are much higher. According to Gallup, the approval ratings for Congress have dipped as low as 13% in the past year, but individual members would be hard pressed to receive such low scores, though Anthony Weiner only had 8% approval after his recent scandal.

Another possible answer is that people’s feelings about the economy are coloring their feelings about things as well. The availability of good jobs had the biggest gap between its importance score (88.1) and its quality score (67.2). People’s feelings about the economy no doubt also effect how they feel about their elected leaders and government in general, and this may be a part of the story as well.

Utah Foundation plans to repeat this survey every two years, and time will tell whether these negative quality ratings of Utah’s infrastructure and economy will hold. As the economy recovers, feelings about job opportunities should change, and it will be interesting to see if perhaps people’s opinions about other factors will change as well.

The Utah Foundation Quality of Life Index report is available to the public at http://www.utahfoundation.org/reports/?p=744.

This is a guest post sent in by Morgan Lyon Cotti, Senior Research Analyst at the Utah Foundation.

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About Adam Brown

Adam Brown is an assistant professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a research fellow with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. You can learn more about him at his website.
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