Fertility rate edges up but population continues to shrink

Kyodo News

Japan’s fertility rate edged up for a third consecutive year in 2008, three years after dropping to a record low of 1.26 in 2005, the health ministry said Wednesday.

The total fertility rate, or the estimated number of children a woman would bear in her lifetime based on current birth trends, rose 0.03 point to an average of 1.37 compared with a year ago.

This partly reflects an increase in childbirths among women in their 30s that may be countering the leveling off seen among women in their 20s, Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry officials said.

“It can be said that these transitions were backed by a buoyant economy, but from this year and later, we need to keep a close eye on how the recession, caused by the financial crisis, will affect that,” an official said.

The total fertility rate is calculated by dividing the number of women aged between 15 and 49 into the number of children they produced in one year.

By prefecture, Tokyo had the lowest fertility rate, 1.09, while Okinawa had the highest, at 1.78.

Meanwhile, deaths rose to a record of 1.14 million, up 34,133 from a year ago and the highest since 1947, as mortality continued to outpace births.

This resulted in the population shrinking by a record 51,317 in 2008 — the steepest fall ever.

Japan’s population shrank by 18,516 in 2007.