TOKYO (AP) -- The number of babies born in Japan this year is below last year's record low in what the the top government spokesman described as a "critical situation."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno promised comprehensive measures to encourage more marriages and births.
The total of 599,636 Japanese born in January-September was 4.9% below last year's figure, suggesting the number of births in all of 2022 might fall below last year's record low of 811,000 babies, he said.
Japan is the world's third biggest economy but living costs are high and wage increases have been slow. The conservative government has lagged on making society more inclusive for children, women and minorities.
So far, the government's efforts to encourage people to have more babies have had limited impact despite payments of subsidies for pregnancy, childbirth and child care.
"The pace is even slower than last year ... I understand that it is a critical situation," Matsuno said.
Many younger Japanese have balked at marrying or having families, discouraged by bleak job prospects, onerous commutes and corporate cultures incompatible with having both parents work.
The number of births has been falling since 1973, when it peaked at about 2.1 million. It's projected to fall to 740,000 in 2040.
Japan's population of more than 125 million has been declining for 14 years and is projected to fall to 86.7 million by 2060. A shrinking and aging population has huge implications for the economy and for national security as the country fortifies its military to counter China's increasingly assertive territorial ambitions.
A government-commissioned panel submitted a report to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last week citing the low birth rate and falling population as factors that might erode Japan's national strength.