Japan’s population has fallen for the sixth consecutive year, though a rise in the number of foreign residents has slowed the pace of decline.
The population stood at 126.93 million as of Oct. 1, down 162,000 from a year earlier.
The number of Japanese declined by a record 299,000 to 125.02 million, but was cushioned by a jump in foreign residents, which rose by a record 136,000, data released Friday by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications show.
The data underscore that Japan is continuing on the path toward a “superaging society” as a result of high life expectancies and a fertility rate below the replacement level, with the sustainability of pensions and other social security services unclear.
A ministry official said the rising number of non-Japanese coming to Japan for work signals that the effects of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters have faded. Foreign nationals living in Japan for over three months were included in the population data.
The number of people who died in the year through last September exceeded the number of babies born by 296,000, producing a natural decline in the population for the 10th consecutive year.
A record 27.3 percent of the population was age 65 or above. The proportion of working-age people, from ages 15 to 64, fell to 60.3 percent, the lowest level since 1951.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has set a target for keeping the population at 100 million in 2060, but the impact of the demographic changes taking place calls that into question.
The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research projects that Japan’s population will be below 100 million in 2053 and 88 million by 2065.
It is feared that the rapid change in the demographic structure will put pressure on the economy and necessitate an overhaul of the national pension and medical care systems. In 1965, the social security system assumed that 9.1 workers between ages 20 and 64 would support each individual 65 or older, but in 2065 the figure is projected to drop to only 1.2 workers.
The need to restructure the system could heat up debate on cutting pension payments, hiking fees for public nursing care services and requiring wealthy elderly individuals to make a greater contribution.
The data also show that the population has continued to concentrate in and around large cities. The population rose in seven of the 47 prefectures: Tokyo and the neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa, as well as Aichi, Fukuoka and Okinawa.