A baby – a rare and increasingly endangered species in Japan and South Korea. Photo: iStock

Japan suffered its latest demographic hammer blow this week when a report was released that showed that in 2019, the country had its lowest number of births since records started in 1899.

The report, published on Tuesday by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, found that the number of births for the year was only 864,000, CNN reported.

That means the number of newborns plunged by 54,000 from the year before and the figure remains under the one million mark for the fourth year running, CNN noted.

When that is combined with a post-war record number of deaths – 1.3 million for the year – Japan suffered an annual population decline of 512,000 in 2019 – yet another record.

Japan’s neighbor South Korea has been seeing a similar trend. In October, the country realized its lowest monthly number of childbirths since related statistics started being compiled in 1981. The figure has been trending downward for 43 consecutive months.

South Korea’s national fertility rate – the average number of births a woman records during her lifetime – hit a national low of 0.88 this year.

Commenting on that rate – if present trends continue, the population will fall from 51.7 million today to 39 million in 2067 – the number two newspaper in the country, the Joongang Ilbo, wrote in an editorial last month: “The country is headed for a demographic cliff … the falling population is as big a threat to South Korea’s sustainability as North Korean nuclear bombs.”

The World Population Review website found that the countries with the lowest fertility rates on earth in 2019 were South Korea and Hong Kong. Most of the highest were in sub-Saharan Africa.

And the falling rates are not just in Asia. Most G7 nations are seeing similar demographic trends.

According to a report by Pew Research in August, Italy recorded its lowest total number of babies born in 2018, while the US hit the lowest number of births in 32 years due to a continuous decline over many years.

In 2100, the world’s median age will be 41.9 years, while the same figure for Japan will be 53.8 years, for Italy 53.4, for France 49.5, for Germany 48.5, for the UK 47.5 and for the US, 45.5.

For some economists, plunging demographics forewarn of troubling days ahead. A smaller and older population means a reduced labor force and slashed economic output, as well as a rising strain on national pension and health services.

However, there are some pluses. One is falling unemployment – a factor Japan is already enjoying. In terms of scientific advance, there is added inducement for the development of automation and AI.

And the care, health, leisure and welfare sectors for seniors are expected to see surging growth.

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