The annual number of babies born in Japan slipped below 1 million in 2016 for the first time since records began, with the estimated figure for the year coming in at 981,000, according to government figures released Thursday.
The number dropped an estimated 25,000 from the previous year, according to a survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. The annual figure had previously remained above 1 million every year since records began in 1899.
The ministry said the main factor behind the figure is a decline in the population of women in their 20s and 30s, and the trend will continue unless the age composition of Japan’s graying population changes.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has set a goal of raising the total fertility rate to 1.8 by around 2025 by assisting child-rearing and improving employment prospects for younger generations, but the new outlook underscores the difficulty of curbing the trend of fewer births.
“We will continue to put efforts into support for child-rearing,” welfare minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki said Thursday, calling the trend “a tough situation.”
The number of deaths eclipsed that of live births for the first time in 2005, leading to a natural population decline. After seeing a recovery the following year, the population has marked net decreases each year since 2007.
That net decrease is forecast to grow to a record 315,000 in 2016, with the estimated number of deaths increasing by around 6,000 from the year prior to 129,600.
On average, one baby was born every 32 seconds in Japan in 2016, while one person died every 24 seconds, according to the figures.
The number of marriages registered in 2016 fell by 14,000 to 621,000, the lowest in the postwar era, while divorces declined by 9,000 to 217,000.
Japan’s total fertility rate, which shows the average number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime, has been recovering gradually since hitting an all-time low of 1.26 in 2005, although it declined in 2014. It rose to a 21-year high of 1.45 in 2015.
The annual number of live births peaked at nearly 2.7 million in 1949 amid a postwar baby boom, according to the ministry.