The number of newborns fell to a record low 842,897 in 2021, marking six straight years of decline, according to the health ministry’s preliminary figures released Friday.

The figure was down 29,786, or 3.4%, from the previous year, reflecting the continued trend of a shrinking population in Japan.

The population decline could make it difficult for Japan to maintain its social security system, which is already weighing heavily on the nation’s coffers.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths was 1,452,289, up 67,745 from the year before and the highest figure since the end of World War II in 1945. The figure, which declined for the first time in 11 years in 2020, showed a slight rise in the latest statistics.

As a result, Japan saw a record natural decrease in the population — the number of deaths minus the number of births — totaling 609,392.

The number of couples who got married last year also dropped by 23,341 from the previous year to 514,242, the lowest figure in the postwar period. Meanwhile, 187,854 couples divorced last year, down 878 from 2020.

The preliminary data includes foreign nationals living in Japan, while the final figures, which are released in June each year, excludes foreign nationals, bringing the figures down. The preliminary figure for newborns in 2020 was roughly 872,000, but the final figure released later in June was about 840,000. The final figure for 2021 is estimated to be around 810,000.