The rate at which births in Japan are declining has accelerated well beyond past government projections, further undermining the population maintenance target.
According to population figures released on June 3 by the Ministry of Health, 811,604 births were recorded in 2021, the lowest figure on record and the sixth consecutive year of declining births.
The number of births fell below 815,000 six years earlier than a projection made in 2017 by the National Institute for Population and Social Security Research (IPSS).
The IPSS made three projections, with the one used by the government predicting 869,000 births in 2021. The pessimistic projection had births in 2021 at 756,000. The actual figure fell between these two projections. But the government’s projection was that births would fall below 815,000 in 2027.
According to a related projection, Japan’s total population would fall below 100 million in 2049, but at current rates the population will likely fall below 100 million sooner as well.
The fertility rate, or the average number of children a woman is expected to have in her lifetime, fell to 1.3 in 2021, down 0.03 points from 2020, for the sixth consecutive year.
A fertility rate of 2.07 is needed to maintain the population. But the latest figure falls not only below that rate, but also below the 1.8% “desired birth rate” set as a government target. The rate was that expected if young people who intended to marry and have children could do so.
Tokyo had the lowest fertility rate at 1.08, followed by Miyagi Prefecture at 1.15 and Hokkaido at 1.20. Okinawa prefecture had the highest rate at 1.80, followed by two other southern prefectures, Kagoshima at 1.65 and Miyazaki at 1.64.
There were 1,439,809 deaths in 2021, the highest number after World War II. Cancer was the leading cause of death at 381,497, followed by heart disease at 214,623 and natural causes due to aging at 152,024.
The Health Ministry also said there were 16,756 deaths attributable to COVID-19. The number of such deaths per 100,000 population was 31.1 in Osaka Prefecture, 26.8 in Hyogo Prefecture and 26 in Okinawa.
The natural population decline of 628,205, calculated by deducting the number of births from the number of deaths, in 2021 was the largest on record.
This decline exceeds the total population of Tottori Prefecture at around 540,000.
Marriages fell for the second straight year to 501,116, the lowest figure after World War II.