TOKYO -- Japanese births are expected to total 941,000 in 2017, the lowest tally in statistics going back to 1899, likely resulting in a natural decline in population by more than 400,000 as deaths mark a postwar peak.
The numbers out Friday from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare show that births will likely fall short of 1 million for a second straight year, following the 976,978 of 2016. The ministry sees fewer women of childbearing age, 25 to 39 years old, as a major culprit. Japan must create an environment conducive to having children, it said.
The ministry also compared birthrates of nine countries, including Japan. The U.S. logged 12.4 births per 1,000 people in 2015, against 12 for the U.K. and 11.8 for France and Sweden. Japan came in last in 2017 at 7.5.
Meanwhile, the death count is seen growing 36,000 on the year to 1,344,000. Japan has seen 10.8 deaths per 1,000 people in 2017, second only to Germany's 11.4 in 2015.
Deaths will exceed births for an 11th straight year. The gap topped 100,000 in 2010 and 200,000 in 2011, ballooning to 330,770 in 2016. It is seen widening to 403,000 in 2017 to hit 400,000 for the first time as Japan's population decline becomes more severe than ever.
The gift of life
More babies have been born in hospitals on Dec. 25 than on any other day over the last decade, a Nikkei Inc. analysis shows. The period from Dec. 31 to Jan. 3 has the fewest births as families use labor-inducing drugs or cesarean sections to plan deliveries before fewer doctors and nurses become available around the new year.
The survey compiled annual population data published by the ministry from 2007 to 2016, analyzing 10.4 million births at hospitals, clinics and maternity homes.
Dec. 25 led the pack at 17,849 births, followed by Sept. 25 at 17,472 and Dec. 26 at 17,292. Excluding the leap day of Feb. 29, the least common days were the four starting on New Year's Eve. Just 9,856 babies were born during the period on average -- roughly half as many as on Christmas.