The number of babies born in Japan totaled 865,234 in 2019, down 53,166 from the previous year and marking the lowest level on record, government data showed Friday.

The nation's total fertility rate -- the average number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime -- decreased 0.06 point to 1.36, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths in the reporting year stood at 1,381,098, the highest since the end of World War II.

As a result, the number of deaths outnumbered births by 515,864, marking the biggest margin of fall since comparable data were made available in 1899.

In May, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet vowed to provide support, including for fertility treatment, so that the average number of children per couple increases to 1.8.

The number of newborns has been on a declining trend since peaking at about 2.7 million in 1949.

A health ministry official pointed to economic instability among young people as well as difficulties balancing work and child-rearing as factors behind the decreasing number of children.

Asked about the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the official said it "would exceed the scope of ordinary projections," without elaborating.

By prefecture, southernmost Okinawa recorded the highest total fertility rate at 1.82 and was the only one of the country's 47 prefectures to see more births than deaths.

Okinawa was followed by Miyazaki with a total fertility rate at 1.73 and Shimane at 1.68.

Tokyo exhibited the lowest total fertility rate at 1.15, followed by Miyagi at 1.23 and Hokkaido at 1.24.

The number of births fell from the previous year among all age brackets of mothers, while the figure was the highest among women aged between 30 and 34 at 312,579, followed by those aged 25 to 29 age at 220,932 and those aged 35 to 39 at 201,009.

The average age at which Japanese women gave birth to their first children stood at 30.7, remaining the same for the fifth consecutive year.

The number of marriages increased for the first time in seven years to 598,965, up 12,484 from the previous year, which some officials believe was due to the desire of many couples to get married in the first year of Japan's new Reiwa era beginning on May 1, 2019, with the imperial succession.

The average age of first marriages stood at 31.2 for men, up 0.1 from the previous year, and 29.6 for women, up 0.2, increasing for both for the first time in six years.

The number of divorces also increased 156 to 208,489, according to the data.

Cancer remained the leading cause of death since 1981, accounting for 27.3 percent of the total, followed by heart disease at 15.0 percent, while 8.8 percent died due to ailments associated with old age.

The number of people who committed suicide declined to 19,415, down by 616 from the previous year, accounting for 1.4 percent of total deaths in the country.

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