Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

Japan’s declining population shows no signs of bottoming out. In fact, the number of babies born in 2018 was the lowest since such statistics were first compiled in 1899.

Figures released by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on June 7 painted yet another grim picture for Japan’s demographics despite the government’s measures aimed at halting the slide.

The 918,397 babies born in 2018 represented a decrease of 27,668 from the previous record low set in 2017.

Japan experienced a natural population decline of 444,085, calculated by deducting the number of births from the number of deaths, in 2018, even worse than the previous largest drop in 2017.

And for the third straight year, the fertility rate, or the average number of children a woman is expected to give birth to in her lifetime, dropped in 2018, down 0.01 point from the previous year to 1.42.

It is far below 2.07, the level needed to maintain the population.

By prefecture, Okinawa had the highest fertility rate at 1.89 and Tokyo had the lowest at 1.20.

The government has taken countermeasures against the population shrinkage, with a goal of reaching 1.8 percent for the “desired birthrate,” or the rate expected if young people’s wishes to marry and have children come true.

But the latest statistics show the government’s efforts have borne little fruit.

“Economic conditions and the difficulty of simultaneously managing both work and child-rearing are considered the major reasons behind the declining birthrates,” a ministry official said. “We need to promote policies to set up an environment where people who want to have children can have children and raise them at ease.”

The ongoing decline in population continued after the second baby boom between 1971 and 1974 ended. These baby boomers are now in their mid-40s, past the age when people normally have children.

The ministry forecasts the number of births will continue to decline.

At the same time, the number of deaths in Japan increased in 2018 for the ninth consecutive year, according to the ministry statistics.

Last year, the number of deaths jumped by 22,085 from the previous year to 1,362,482, the most since the end of World War II.

As Japan’s population continues to gray, people 75 years old or older have accounted for more than 70 percent of all deaths since 2012.

People aged 65 or over accounted for 28.5 percent of the population, which was about 124.22 million as of Oct. 1, 2018.

And fewer people tied the knot for the sixth straight year.

In 2018, 586,438 couples got married, down by 20,428 from the previous year and the lowest number since the end of World War II.

Meanwhile, 208,333 couples divorced, 3,929 fewer than the previous year.

The ratio of men who remarried in 2018 was 19.7 percent, while that of women was 16.9 percent. Both ratios were up 0.2 point from 2017.

The average age for first marriage has remained unchanged since 2014, at 31.1 years old for men and 29.4 years old for women.