The number of babies born in Japan in 2022 fell to a new record low for the seventh consecutive year, dropping below 800,000 for the first time since records began in 1899, government data showed Tuesday.

The total number of births was down 5.1 percent to 799,728, according to preliminary data released by the health ministry. The drop comes much earlier than a 2017 government forecast that said births would fall below 800,000 in 2033.

File photo shows newborn babies at a hospital in Kumamoto, southwestern Japan, in December 2022. (Kyodo)

Lifestyle changes resulting from the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic and a growing trend of people marrying later in life or not marrying at all are thought to have exacerbated the declining birthrate.

"Many complex factors are involved, including financial instability among young people and less social encounters," an official of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said.

"The drop in births in 2022 is likely to have been impacted by the decline of marriages in 2020 due to the arrival of the pandemic, given how, in many cases, the first child is born two years after getting married," said Takumi Fujinami, a senior researcher at the Japan Research Institute.

"Women in particular are less willing to have children," Fujinami said. "Along with the economic and employment environment, the issue of the gender gap, which puts a heavy burden on women in areas like child-rearing, should be improved."

The latest data showed that excluding children born to foreign parents, the approximate number of births is estimated to be around 770,000.

The data includes figures for Japanese nationals living abroad and foreigners residing in Japan.

The administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has introduced "unprecedented" measures to counter the country's declining birthrate, with government ministries and agencies compiling by the end of March an outline on how to proceed with it.

As for the number of deaths in Japan in 2022, the figure hit a record high of 1,582,033, up 129,744, according to the data.

The number of marriages, however, did rise for the first time in three years in 2022. Marriages had declined to their lowest level since the end of World War II in 2021 amid the pandemic.