Baby Boom Has Gone Bust

One unexpected side effect of economic hard times is a sharp decline in birth rates.  In Illinois, for example, the birth rate has fallen to its lowest level since 1933 – and that was during the darkest days of the Great Depression.  “Many couples are strained and don’t want to take on additional responsibilities,” said Dr. Kishore Lakhani, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist.  Dr. Vijay Arekapudi, chairwoman of the OB/GYN department at the Division Street campus of Sts. Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center is in agreement, noting that “Especially for people who are working, if they already have a child, they are deciding to continue taking birth control.”

At present, Illinois’ birth rate is approximately 13.3 for every 1,000 people.  That is a significant reduction from the high of 17.1 per 1,000 residents in 1990, according to Census Bureau statistics.  By contrast, the 1933 rate was 13.9.  According to the Illinois Department of Public Health and the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 171,200 babies were born in Illinois in the year ending last November.  Births are down five percent from 180,503 births in 2007, before the recession began, according to Census Bureau statistics.

“It’s not just the recession; it’s the way the recession is intersecting with these other trends” that has slashed the birth rate, said Arden Handler, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health.  Illinois is not the only state impacted by falling birth rates, according to the Pew Research Center.  The nonpartisan organization studied data from 25 states (Illinois was not one of them) and found that birth rates started shrinking in 2008 after reaching their highest level in 20 years.  Gretchen Livingston, a Pew Center senior researcher, summed up the trend as “When things are tough economically, fertility goes down.