The number of babies born in Japan in 2023 fell to a record low from a year earlier as the country's population shrank by its largest ever margin, government data showed Tuesday, highlighting its ongoing struggle with a rapidly graying society.

The figure for babies was down by 5.1 percent to 758,631, according to preliminary data released by the health ministry. The figure has remained below the 800,000 mark since 2022.

The population, including foreign residents, fell by 831,872, with deaths outnumbering births.

The drop comes much earlier than the government's National Institute of Population and Social Security Research forecast, which estimated births would decline to below 760,000 in 2035.

Photo taken in July 2022 shows a parent and their child playing in a park in Toyokawa, Aichi Prefecture. (Kyodo)

The number of deaths also hit a record 1,590,503, according to the data, while the number of marriages fell to its lowest level since the end of World War II at 489,281 unions.

Meanwhile, divorces increased to 187,798, up by 4,695.

The fast pace of decline in the number of newborns has been attributed to late marriages and people staying single. The administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has called the period leading up to 2030 "the last chance" to reverse the trend.

A fall in the number of marriages is clearly followed by a drop in births, said Kanako Amano, a senior researcher at the NLI Research Institute.

In order to increase the number of marriages, the government must conduct labor reforms, such as increasing wages in rural areas and eliminating the gender gap, Amano said.

The government is planning on submitting related legislation, including a bill on boosting child allowances to combat the declining birthrate, to the current session of parliament.

The number of births has been on a downward trend after hitting a peak in 1973 at around 2.09 million babies. It fell below 1 million in 2016.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is set to release possibly in June population data excluding foreign residents. The revised figure for 2022 showed births falling to 770,747, down about 30,000 from the preliminary figure.

If a similar trend continues in 2023, the number of births excluding foreign residents is likely to total around 730,000.

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