Japan’s population has started shrinking for the first time this year, health ministry data showed Thursday, presenting the government with pressing challenges on the social and economic front, including ensuring provision of social security services and securing the labor force.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s annual survey estimates the balance of domestic births of Japanese against deaths in 2005 to be minus 10,000, marking the first natural decline since the government first began compiling the data in 1899.
Even on an aggregate population basis, including foreign residents, the balance is projected to be minus 4,000 in 2005, registering a fall one year earlier than projected by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, which had predicted a decline after 2006.
Japan joins Germany and Italy in the ranks of countries where a declin in population has already set in.
The government responded to the data by resolving to reinforce measures to deal with the falling birthrate.
“The government and the ruling parties think of measures to counter the falling birthrate as extremey important . . . and are willing to further reinforce them,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told a news conference.
The institute attributed the decline to a rise in deaths because of flu and stalled growth in the number of babies born from mothers in their 30s — the children of baby boomers.
However, final data due out next September may result in a positive figure because differences between these two types of data typically range from several thousand to up to 10,000, a ministry official said.
The annual estimate is chiefly based on preliminary data up to October.
The number of births, which has continually been declining since the 1970s, marked a record low 1,067,000 in 2005, 44,000 fewer than in 2004, according to the annual estimate.
The number of deaths rose by 48,000 from 2004 to 1,077,000, marking the third straight year with more than 1 million deaths, with many elderly people dying of flu between January and March, the figures show.
Japan’s population, based on census, is estimated to have been 127,687,000 as of Oct. 1, 2004, according to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.
The ministry’s statistics show Japan’s population was about 43 million in 1899, the first year data were compiled. It surpassed 100 million in 1970.
The population institute projected in 2002 that the balance of births and deaths would be 20,000 in 2005 and minus 23,000 in 2006. The aggregate population as of Oct. 1 will peak in 2006 and a long-term decline will set in thereafter with the population to drop to around 100,600,000 in 2050, the institute projects.
The government will need to address expected declines in the labor force and the nation’s economic output as well as increases in social security costs.
With society aging and women bearing fewer children, social security costs will likely grow heavier in future generations. This will increase pressure on the government to secure revenue by raising social security charges or the consumption tax.
The Japan Times: Dec. 23, 2005
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