Average annual household income rose 0.1 percent from a year earlier to 5,804,000 yen in 2004 for the first rise in eight years, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s national livelihood survey released Wednesday.

However, the gap between lower- and higher-income households widened from the previous year because the average income of lower-income households dropped. Those who said life was “hard” accounted for a record 56.2 percent of all respondents, up 0.3 percentage point from a year earlier.

Of the five designated income brackets, the three lower groups — those with annual income no higher than 5.74 million yen — saw incomes drop from a year ago, while the higher two groups saw incomes rise.

The number of elderly households — defined as those consisting only of people aged 65 or older, or of people aged 65 or older living with children under 18 — topped 8 million to account for a record 17.7 percent of all households.

The number of households with children under 18 came to 12.36 million, or 26.3 percent, the lowest-ever and about a full 20 points lower than in 1986, the year the survey began.

The survey, conducted between last June and July, polled about 6,800 households across the country about their incomes, and about 45,000 households about their family compositions.

The rise in annual income per household was the first since 1996, but the increase was 7,000 yen, and average income fell short of 6 million yen for the third straight year, the survey showed.

Respondents who feel life is “hard” or “very hard” have been on the increase, with 54.7 percent of elderly households and 60.1 percent of those with children under 18 voicing that concern.

There were an estimated 47.04 million households in the country when the survey was taken.

Of those, 8.35 million were elderly households, about 3.5 times more than in 1986.

The number of households with only one person aged 65 or older came to 4.07 million, while the number of households with couples aged 65 or older was also 4.07 million, according to the survey.

About 60 percent of elderly households existed only on pension credits, the survey showed.

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