A real sign of recession http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/ct-met-birth-rate-decline-20100824,0,7509099.story After the tumult of losing a job, searching for new employment and relocating to the Chicago area, the Hurleys of Naperville decided not to have any more children. "We're done," said Tracy Hurley, a stay-at-home mom with a 3-year-old and a 1 1/2-year-old. Their decision is apparently becoming more common. The birth rate in Illinois has dropped to its lowest level since 1933, the height of the Great Depression, in part because financially stressed couples are putting off or deciding against expanding their families. "Many couples are strained and don't want to take on additional responsibilities," said Dr. Kishore Lakhani, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist who practices in Hoffman Estates. "Especially people who are working, if they already have a child, they are deciding to continue taking birth control," said Dr. Vijay Arekapudi, chairwoman of the OB/GYN department at the Division Street campus of Sts. Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center. Illinois' birth rate stands at about 13.3 for every 1,000 people in the state, down from a recent high of 17.1 per 1,000 residents in 1990, according to a Tribune analysis of Census Bureau population figures and local birth data. In 1933, the rate was 13.9. Slightly more than 171,200 babies were born to Illinois families in the 12 months ending in November, the most recent period for which data are available from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the National Center for Health Statistics. The Census Bureau estimates that 12.9 million people lived in the state in 2009. The birth figure is down 5 percent from 180,503 births in calendar year 2007, before the recession began. (The recession started in December 2007, but its potential impact on births lags by at least nine months, the length of a full-term pregnancy.) Other factors are also contributing to the decline, experts say. More women are working outside the home and delaying pregnancy. Many communities across the state are aging, a review of Census Bureau data shows. Meanwhile, marriage rates are falling, and some couples are choosing to focus on careers and each other instead of becoming parents. Tiara Agresta, 32, and her husband routinely field questions about their baby plans. One relative even sends them articles about fertility hazards. But the graphic designer from River Grove â who teaches college courses and dabbles in writing â said that for now she's focused on carving a career path. "It's not to the exclusion of kids. It's just something I don't think about," Agresta said. The scarcity of jobs also has meant fewer Mexicans â who have a huge presence in Chicago â immigrating to the U.S., according to research by the Pew Hispanic Center, which is based in Washington, D.C. Typically, fertility rates are higher among immigrants than among native-born Americans. "It's not just the recession; it's the way the recession is intersecting with these other trends" that is affecting births, said Arden Handler, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. Abortion does not appear to be a factor, as those numbers are declining, she noted. The trend is evident nationally as well as in Illinois, according to an April report by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan organization. That study examined data from 25 states (Illinois was not included) and found that birth rates started slipping in 2008 after reaching their highest level in two decades. An association between reduced fertility and financial hardship was evident when data were analyzed across time and across states, said Gretchen Livingston, a senior researcher at the Pew center. "When things are tough economically, fertility goes down," she said. Indeed, the national fertility rate slid to 67 births for every 1,000 women age 15 to 44 in the 12 months ending in November, down from 68.4 in the comparable period in 2008, and 69.2 in 2007, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Families are making rational choices, given the estimated cost of raising a child as well as uncertainty about children's future economic prospects, said Price Fishback, an economic historian at the University of Arizona. Recently, the government estimated that a two-parent, middle-income family can expect to spend $286,050 on housing, food, child care and other items for a child born in 2009, through age 17. Paying for college would add more. An environmentalist and founder of the Chicago-based Green Mama organization, Manda Aufochs Gillespie knows where to find an organic crib mattress, glass baby bottles and the best-priced organic produce. Still, raising children according to healthy principles takes time and cash. And Gillespie, who delivered her second daughter in May, has decided with her husband that the baby will be their last.