Japan’s population as of Oct. 1 declined slightly from a year earlier, a national census showed on Tuesday, fueling concerns that a shrinking population could threaten the long-term health of the economy.
Japan’s aging population and falling birthrate could eventually deal a heavy blow to the world’s second-largest economy, with fewer people working to support an increasing number of pensioners.
Recent data had suggested that Japan’s population may have started falling this year, two years earlier than previously forecast by Japan’s National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.
In a finding that underscores such concerns, the initial results of a nationwide census conducted this year showed that Japan’s population fell slightly to 127,757,000 as of Oct. 1, down from an estimated 127,776,000 a year earlier.
The year-ago figure was calculated based on an extrapolation from this year’s census data.
Compared with the previous census in 2000, the population increased by 830,000, or just 0.7 percent -- the lowest growth rate in the post-World War Two era, the Internal Affairs ministry said in its report.
Last week, the Health Ministry said the number of deaths in Japan was expected to exceed births in 2005 for the first time in more than a century.
An annual Health Ministry report on Japanese demographics said the number of deaths was expected to exceed births by about 10,000 in 2005. That would be the first time deaths had exceeded births since 1899 when the government began to compile data.
While other factors need to be taken into account, such as the movement of people to and from other countries, Japanese media said the Health Ministry data pointed to a shrinking of the overall population.
In a white paper released earlier this month, the government warned that Japan’s population will shrink by half in less than a century unless something is done to reverse the country’s falling birthrate.