Japan's total fertility rate in 2012 hit a 16-year high of 1.41, while the number of births fell to a new low of 1,037,101, the government said Wednesday.

The TFR, or the average number of children born to a woman during her lifetime, rose by 0.02 point from the previous year, sustaining an uptrend since a record low of 1.26 logged in 2005. The last time the rate was at 1.40 was in 1996.

The number of births decreased by 13,705 as the number of women in their 20s and 30s declined, a health ministry official said, adding, "The downtrend is likely to continue."

As of October, women in their 30s numbered about 8.31 million and those in their 20s around 6.31 million.

Of the 47 prefectures, Okinawa recorded the highest TFR, at 1.90, followed by 1.68 for Shimane and 1.67 for Miyazaki. Tokyo had the lowest rate, at 1.09.

The average age for a first birth in 2012 rose by 0.2 from the previous year to 30.3, climbing for the 20th straight year.

The number of births declined among women in their 20s and early 30s, while increasing among those in their late 30s and 40s.

The number of deaths in the year hit a postwar high of 1,256,254, reflecting the aging of the population.

The natural population decline — the gap between the number of deaths and births — stood at 219,153.

Only four prefectures — Kanagawa, Aichi, Shiga and Okinawa — saw more births than deaths.

Cancer remained the biggest cause of death for the 32nd year, claiming 360,790 lives, followed by 198,622 deaths caused by cardiac disease, 123,818 due to pneumonia and 121,505 due to vascular brain disease.

The number of marriages last year increased by 6,893 from the previous year to 668,788. The the number of divorces fell by 325 to 235,394.