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Friday, June 2, 2006

Fertility rate set another record low in '05

Staff writer

Japan's so-called total fertility rate, an indicator used for international comparisons of birth trends within individual countries, fell for the fifth consecutive year, hitting a record low of 1.25 last year, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Thursday.

The record low rate prompted Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to take a hard look at the dwindling birthrate.

"We have to take this figure very seriously," Koizumo told reporters at his official residence. "Measures to cope with the declining number of children will be the priority issue in the future."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe also voiced concern, saying that the rapidly graying society "will affect the basis of our country" as it will lead to higher social welfare burdens and lower economic growth.

According to the health ministry, the total fertility rate slipped 0.04 points in 2005 from 1.29 in 2004. The latest figure is lower than the 1.31 level predicted by the government in its 2002 long-term forecast. The forecast is used to determine premiums and benefits for public pensions, as well as for the social security system as a whole.

The total fertility rate indicates the number of children that would be born to each woman if she were to live and bear children at each age in accordance with prevailing age-specific fertility rates in a given year.

Using the rate makes it possible for countries to compare their figures with general fertility trends in different countries in a given year regardless of differences in their female population age pyramids. The figures released Thursday do not include non-Japanese residents.

To maintain the current population level, Japan would have to maintain a fertility rate of 2.07. The 2002 government forecast warned the population will decline by nearly half to 64 million in 2100 if the current low rate continues.

Many developed economies in Asia have seen rapid declines in fertility in recent years. In 2004, the fertility rate was 0.93 in Hong Kong, 1.16 in South Korea, 1.18 in Taiwan and 1.24 in Singapore.

The health ministry also announced that 714,261 couples married in 2005, down 6,156 from the previous year.

The average age men married was 29.8 and was 28 for women, up 0.2 year from the previous year for both men and women. Divorces numbered 261,929, down 8,875 from the previous year, the third straight yearly fall since peaking at 289,836 in 2002.

Natural population growth, or the number of births minus deaths, fell by 103,527 to a negative 21,408 in 2005, the first time the has been negative since statistics started being compiled in 1899, and thus means there was a decline instead of actual growth.

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The Japan Times

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