Japan’s fertility rate likely reached a record low of 1.21 in 2023, based on a new estimate, with the country’s demographic decline outpacing the government forecast, Report informs via Nikkei Asia.

The rate, which represents the average number of children a woman is expected to have in her lifetime, is 0.05 below the previous low from 2005 and 2022, according to calculations by Takuya Hoshino, an economist at Japan’s Dai-ichi Life Research Institute. It likely fell for the eighth straight year, he said.

The decline stemmed largely from a decrease in marriages during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the number dropping 12% in 2020 and 5% in 2021. Changing values and economic uncertainties contributed as well.

Births to Japanese nationals also fell 5% in 2023 to a record low of 731,139, Hoshino calculated. He based the estimates on factors including fertility rate forecasts and age breakdowns of women in Japan.

His estimate indicates that Japan’s demographic crisis is worsening faster than the government anticipated. The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in 2023 predicted a total fertility rate of 1.23 and total births of 739,000 for the year.

Data published in February by Japan’s health ministry showed that births nationwide, including to foreigners, fell for the eighth year in a row to a record low of 758,631. The ministry will publish official data on Japan’s total fertility rate and births to Japanese nationals in early June.

The decline appears to be continuing this year. Total births in Japan, including to foreigners, fell 6.4% on the year in January-March to 170,804. Deaths outnumbered births by 270,566.

Fertility rates in many other advanced economies also have fallen below the 2.07 mark needed to maintain the population on their own. South Korea recorded a fertility rate of 0.72 and 230,000 births in 2023. France saw a rate of 1.68 and 678,000 births, while the US reported a rate of 1.62 and 3.59 million births.