December 22, 2016 / 4:08 AM / 4 years ago

Births in Japan expected to fall below million for first time this year

TOKYO (Reuters) - The number of births in Japan is likely to fall below a million this year for the first time since data became available in 1899, the government said on Thursday, reflecting a fast-ageing society and the high cost of child care.

Japan will also post a natural population decline this year as deaths outpace births, its 10th consecutive drop, according to an estimate by the Health Ministry.

The number of births is estimated at 981,000 this year, down from slightly more than a million last year, data from the ministry showed.

Births hit a record high of 2.696 million in 1949.

A shrinking population of women in their 20s and 30s is a key factor in the falling number, a ministry official said.

Japan’s fertility rate was 1.45 in 2015, up 0.03 points from a year earlier, helped by an economic recovery, and is recovering from the record low of 1.26 hit in 2005. However, it is still far from the government’s goal of 1.80.

Japan’s cabinet on Thursday approved a record $830 billion spending budget for fiscal 2017, which includes child-rearing support.

Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Linda Sieg and Nick Macfie

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