The total fertility rate in Japan dropped for the seventh straight year in 2022, government data showed Friday, as the country continues to struggle with a rapidly declining birthrate.
The number of babies born in Japan last year also fell for the seventh consecutive year, dropping below 800,000 for the first time since records began in 1899 to 770,747, down 40,875 from the previous year, according to the data released by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
The total fertility rate -- the average number of children a woman is estimated to bear in her lifetime -- fell to 1.26, on par with the record low in 2005.
The pace of decline in the number of births has also been accelerating in recent years, falling by 24,404 in 2020 from the previous year, and by 29,213 in 2021.
The decrease is believed to have been exacerbated by people delaying having a child due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while the trend toward delaying marriages and a drop in their overall numbers have also been cited as a factor, as births outside of wedlock remain uncommon in Japan.
The number of couples tying the knot tumbled during the pandemic, falling to its lowest level in 2021 since post-World War II to 501,138 unions, down from a peak of about 1.10 million in 1972.
While the total edged up in 2022 for the first time in three years amid easing coronavirus restrictions, a health ministry official noted that there were signs it may be falling back down.
The fertility data comes a day after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida released a draft plan to boost "unparalleled" child-rearing support, although the announcement has raised questions about its effectiveness in turning around the falling birthrate.
The fertility rate in Japan had recovered to 1.45 in 2015, but has been on a downward trend since 2016.
By prefecture, Okinawa in southern Japan had the highest rate at 1.70, followed by Miyazaki and Tottori prefectures at 1.63 and 1.60, respectively.
Tokyo recorded the lowest rate at 1.04, while Miyagi Prefecture logged 1.09 and Hokkaido registered 1.12.
Preliminary data released by the health ministry in February showed the total number of births fell below the 800,000 mark for the first time at 799,728, but the count fell further to the 770,000 range after births by foreigners were deducted.
Meanwhile, the number of deaths in Japan in 2022 rose to a record high 1.57 million, with the population naturally shrinking for the 16th consecutive year.