Fewer babies were born to Utahns in 1987, and a record number of residents died, according to a Utah Department of Health report.

Hard economic times may be to blame for the decline in births."I think parents feel they cannot afford as many children," said Dr. Tom Wells, director of the Bureau of Maternal and Infant Health.Provisional birth and death statistics, obtained by the department from birth and death certificates, showed that in 1987 there were 35,300 live births to Utah residents 3 percent fewer than in 1986 and the fifth consecutive annual decrease.

On the other hand, there were 9,200 deaths among Utah residents, a 3.5 percent increase.

Nevertheless, Utah's birth rate continues to be one of the highest in the nation. Only Alaska ranks higher. The national provisional 1987 live birth rate was 15.7, a slight increase above the 1986 rate of 15.5. The U.S. birth rate had averaged 15.5 live births per 1,000 population since 1983.

Utah's high birth rate is due to the youth of the state's population and the fact that Utahns continue to have large families, according to John Brockert, director of the Bureau of Vital Records.

Since 1980, when there was a record number of births to Utah residents (41,786), there has been a steady decline (except for 1982) in the total number of births and the birth rate in Utah. Based on the 1980 birth rate of 28.3, there has been a nearly 26 percent decrease through 1987.

Deaths, however, hit an all time high, but the rate is still lower than the national average.

Brockert said Utah's lower mortality rate is, like the higher birth rate, attributable in part to the state's young population and to the lower rates of cancer, heart disease and accidents that occur in the state.

The 9,200 deaths among Utah residents in 1987 represent a 3.5 percent increase from 8,886 in 1986.

The 1987 mortality rate (the number of deaths per 1,000 population) was 5.5, a slight increase over the 1986 rate of 5.3. Since 1980, the Utah mortality rate has fluctuated only slightly, for a low of 5.3 in 1983 and 1986, to a high of 5.5 in 1980, 1981 and 1987.

Nationally, the 1987 death rate was 8.7 per 1,000 population, which has not changed since 1985.