The number of babies born in Japan fell an estimated 5.9 percent this year to fewer than 900,000, the first time since the government started compiling data in 1899, the welfare ministry said Tuesday.
The dwindling number of births will put more strain on welfare finances to support the snowballing costs of supporting an aging population, undermining economic growth, analysts say.
The annual total is expected to fall by some 54,000 from the 918,400 born the previous year, hitting a record low for the fourth straight year.
The expected drop below 900,000 will come two years earlier than had been projected by a research institute of the ministry.
This was the biggest decline in births since 1975, driven by the lower number of women age 25 to 39, said a ministry official in charge of compiling the data.
The government is hoping for a birth rate of 1.8 percent — which would appear to be a tall order given the rate was 1.42 percent in 2018.
The number of deaths is projected at 1,376,000, a postwar record. The nation’s natural population decline is estimated at 512,000, topping 500,000 for the first time, after exceeding 400,000 for the first time last year.
The number of newly married couples is estimated to hit a postwar low of 583,000, down 3,000 from last year. The number of divorces is projected to reach 210,000, up 2,000. As reasons for the expected sharp drop in the number of newborns, the ministry also cited the plunge in the number of couples married last year.
The ministry believes that the current trend will continue.
A demographic forecast released in 2017 by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research projected that the number of babies born in Japan, including non-Japanese babies, would total 921,000 in 2019, 902,000 in 2020 and 886,000 in 2021.
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