The number of births in Japan in the first six months of the year rose for the first time in six years, raising hopes for a turnaround in the nation's plunging annual birthrate, government officials said on Tuesday.
A total 549,255 births were registered from the beginning of January to the end of June, up 11,618 from the same period in 2005, according to Health Ministry statistics released on Monday. The increase, the first in six years for the January-June period, is good news and could bring an improvement in Japan's annual birth rate, officials said.
"If the trend continues for the rest of the year, the birth rate this year may turn upward," ministry official Sayuri Narahara said. Japan's birth rate in 2005 stood at a record low of 1.25 babies per woman in her lifetime, far below the 2.1 rate needed to keep the population steady. The nation's population last year dropped for the first time on record, shocking officials and spurring a spate of measures to encourage women to have more babies.
A plunging birth rate and an expanding elderly population pose serious concerns for Japan as it struggles to tackle a labour shortage and eroding tax base.
Narahara said the increase in the number of births might have reflected economic growth and improvement in employment. "But we still have to continue monitoring the movement," she added.
The latest population report also showed that a total of 367,965 couples registered their marriages during the first half of 2006, up 10,936 from a year earlier. The number of deaths in the six-month period stood at 564,082, according to the ministry report.