The annual number of newborns dropped to a record low of 946,060 in 2017, staying below 1 million for the second consecutive year, a government survey showed Friday.
Japan’s population thus fell by the largest margin yet, with births dropping 30,918 from the previous year and deaths climbing to a postwar high of 1,340,433, for a natural decrease of 394,373, the health ministry’s data showed.
Marriages also fell, hitting a postwar low of 606,863, down 13,668 from the previous year.
The total fertility rate — defined as the average number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime — fell 0.01 point to 1.43, far below the rate of 2.07 needed to stabilize the population. The decline highlights the difficulty the Abe administration is having in tackling demographic issues.
The government may need to come up with more effective measures to achieve its fertility rate target of 1.8 by the end of fiscal 2025. Its goal is to halt the drop and stabilize the population at around 100 million in 2060.
The total fertility rate has been hovering around 1.4 since 2012. The record low of 1.26 was set in 2005. The fertility rate was as high as 4.54 in 1947 but sank past the 2.00 line in 1975.
“Since the number of women in their 20s and 30s has been decreasing, it is difficult to raise the number of births right away,” an official of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said.
“It is necessary to improve support measures so that they will be able to bear children without anxiety,” the official said.
Masahiro Yamada, a sociology professor at Chuo University, pointed out that the current trend in births is expected to continue due to the demographic fact that a small population of young people will lead to a decline in marriages.
Yamada said policies such as those related to the social security system “should be developed on the premise that aging and a shrinking population will continue.”