Japan's Birth Rate Rises for 7th Straight Month

Japan's birth rate rose for the seventh straight month in August, the government said Friday, raising hopes for an upturn in the country's plunging annual birth rate and declining population.

A falling birth rate and an expanding elderly population pose serious concerns for Japan as it struggles to tackle a labor shortage and eroding tax base. Japan's birth rate in 2005 stood at a record low of 1.25 babies per woman in her lifetime, far below the 2.1 rate needed to keep the population steady.

In August, a total of 98,276 births were registered, up 3,001 from the same month in 2005, or a rise of about 3 percent, according to Health Ministry statistics released Friday.

That's the seventh straight monthly gain in birth rates. But Reiji Murayama, an official of the Health Ministry's vital and health statistics division, said it was too early to say that the latest data meant a turnaround in the country's annual birthrate.

"We cannot predict if the falling birthrate may hit the bottom this year yet, until we will see the remaining four months," Murayama said.

The nation's population last year declined for the first time on record, shocking officials and spurring a spate of measures to encourage women to have more babies.

To encourage women to have more babies, the government started a project to build more day care centers, while encouraging men to take paternity leave. Amid changing lifestyles, many single women are delaying or forgoing marriage to pursue careers.