The number of newborns in Japan hit a record low of 918,397 in 2018, staying below the 1 million mark for the third year in a row, a government survey showed Friday.
The rapidly aging country posted the largest margin of decrease in its population at 444,085 since comparable data became available in 1899, with the number of births falling 27,668 from the previous year and the number of deaths rising 22,085 to 1,362,482, according to the health ministry.
The total fertility rate — the average number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime — fell 0.01 point to 1.42, clouding prospects for the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to achieve its goal of increasing the rate to 1.8 by March 2026.
The total fertility rate has been hovering around 1.4 since 2012 after hitting a low of 1.26 in 2005. The rate fell below 2.00 in 1975, a large decline from 4.54 in 1947.
The average age for Japanese women to give birth to their first child stood at 30.7 for the fourth straight year. The number of babies born to women between ages 30 and 34 fell more than 10,000.
Okinawa was the only prefecture where births outpaced deaths. Among Japan’s 47 prefectures, it had the highest birth rate, 1.89, followed by Shimane’s 1.74 and Miyazaki’s 1.72. The lowest was in Tokyo, with 1.20.
“We will implement policies that will help mothers who want to give birth and raise children,” said an official at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
Japan’s birthrate declined after people started to marry late or not marry at all. But research has shown that most youths wish to marry in the future under the right circumstances.
According to a recent survey by a group that strives to make child-rearing easier for families, 73.5 percent of nearly 3,000 respondents said they feel it is difficult to have two children.
In the online survey, conducted in late May by 1more Baby Oendan, 82 percent of them said the hurdle to having two children is mainly economic.
Experts say the obvious steps that Japan needs to take include identifying and removing potential hurdles that discourage people from marrying young and having families — such as unstable jobs and low levels of income, as well as various costs associated with giving birth and raising children.
The government has pledged to stem the population decline by expanding support for child care and education. With little major progress seen as a result of such steps, however, some politicians are apparently blaming women for the stagnant numbers.
Among them is Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Yoshitaka Sakurada, a gaffe-prone former Olympics minister who found himself in hot water recently by urging women to have “at least three children.”