• Kyodo, Jiji

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The number of babies born in Japan fell to a record low 840,832 in 2020, a year when the nation was hit by the coronavirus pandemic, according to government data.

The figure, released Friday, marked the lowest level since the health ministry started taking such surveys in 1899. It was down 24,407 from the previous year, when the number dipped below 900,000 for the first time.

The data revealed that the trend of rapid aging of the nation’s population is accelerating amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The average number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime declined 0.02 point from 2019 to 1.34, and the number of marriages decreased 73,517 to 525,490, the lowest in the post-World War II era, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Analysts predict the impact of the pandemic on births will become more severe in 2021, with the number of newborns from January to March this year dropping 9.2% from a year earlier on a preliminary basis.

For the whole of 2021, the number may fall to the 700,000 level, 10 years earlier than the government had projected.

The number of births has been on a downward trend since 1973, the peak for the second-generation baby boomers in Japan at about 2.09 million.

By age of mothers, the number was the highest among women between 30 and 34 at 303,434, with the average age for women to bear their first child standing at 30.7 years old.

The number of births fell among all age groups except for those aged 45 and older, as the figure rose by 27 among that group in 2020 from the previous year.

By prefecture, Okinawa logged the highest total fertility rate at 1.86, followed by Shimane at 1.69 and Miyazaki at 1.68.

Tokyo registered the lowest rate at 1.13, followed by Hokkaido and Miyagi at 1.21.

The ministry’s data also showed that the number of couples who tied the knot in Japan in 2020 fell 73,517 from the previous year to 525,490, hitting the lowest level since the end of World War II in 1945.

The fall in the number of marriages in 2020 probably came in reaction to the first rise in seven years in the preceding year, when the change of the imperial era, from Heisei to Reiwa upon Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement on May 1, encouraged couples to get married, a ministry official said.

The pandemic is also believed to have caused people to postpone their marriages, the official said.

The average age of first marriages stood at 31 for men and 29.4 for women.

The number of divorces came to 193,251, down 15,245 from the previous year, according to the data.

The number of deaths fell to 1,372,648 in 2020, registering the first decrease in 11 years despite the pandemic. The number of people who were reported to have died of COVID-19 came to 3,466.

Japan’s natural population decline, or the number of deaths minus that of births, came to 531,816, hitting a record high.

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