Japan's population fell by 16,000 in 2007, a government survey said Tuesday, renewing fears of a demographic crisis with a smaller working population forced to support a mass of pensioners.
Japan has one of the world's oldest populations, with many young people opting against having families because they place too heavy a burden on their lifestyles and careers.
The health ministry survey showed a projected net decline of 16,000 people last year, with births falling by 3,000 to 1.09 million while the number of deaths rose by 22,000 to 1.106 million.
The population dropped in 2005 for the first time since tracking of such data began in 1899, but showed a surprise rise in 2006, as births increased for the first time in six years.
But in 2007, the number of births is estimated to have fallen again to 1.09 million, the second fewest since World War II, the ministry said.
The fertility rate -- the average number of children a woman has in her lifetime -- had risen to 1.32 in 2006, up 0.06 percentage points from the record low of 1.26 in the previous year.
The ministry estimates that the fertility rate edged up to 1.33 in 2007, but said that "a long-term trend of the decline in population is inevitable" as the number of young women who can give birth is falling, local media reported, citing a briefing by health ministry officials Monday.
The trend spells a future crisis as a smaller number of workers is asked to support a growing number of pensioners. Japan has resisted immigration on any wide scale.
Japan has been struggling to find ways to encourage young people to have children. One example is legislation in 2006 that bans discrimination in the workplace against women who go on maternity leave.