TOKYO: Japan's population fell this year for the first time since World War II, a national census showed yesterday, raising concerns about the challenge posed to the world's number two economy by a low birth rate.
Japan's population in 2005 stood at 127.76 million people, about 20,000 short of last year's estimated population, according to the national census, which is conducted every five years.
It was the first fall since comparable records became available after the end of World War II, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which published the findings.
Compared with the last national census in 2000, the population increased by 830,000 but the pace of growth slowed to a post-war record low of 0.7 per cent.
Although the number of Japanese households increased by 5.2 per cent over the past five years, the average number of household members decreased to 2.58 from 2.70, suggesting there are a growing number of single households.
With its young people increasingly choosing not to marry and finding children a burden to their careers and lifestyles, Japan joins Germany and Italy among a club of nations whose populations have started to shrink.
The average number of children a Japanese woman has in her lifetime has been steadily decreasing and marked a new record low of 1.2886 in 2004.
The declining population has fueled fears for the future of the country's pension system, as a smaller workforce supports an increasing number of pensioners.
Japan's public debt is already equivalent to over 160 per cent of national output, as the government spent trillions of yen trying to stimulate growth after the "bubble economy" burst in the early 1990s.
Two weeks ago the Cabinet Office forecast that the country's population would start shrinking in 2006 already one year sooner than previously predicted.
Source: China Daily