TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's population has shrunk for the fourth year running, falling back to a level it was last at in 2000, with more than one in four people now aged 65 or older, the government said.
The population dropped by 0.17 per cent, or 215,000 people, to 127,083,000 as of Oct 1 last year, according to the data released on Friday. The figure includes long-staying foreigners.
The number of people aged 65 or over rose by 1.1 million to 33 million and now outnumber those aged 14 or younger by two to one.
The demographic shift is due to a combination of a low birthrate and long life expectancy.
Japan's rapidly greying population poses a major headache for policymakers who are faced with trying to ensure an ever-dwindling pool of workers can pay for the growing number of pensioners.
The country has very little immigration. Any suggestion of opening its borders to young workers who could help plug the population gap provokes strong reactions among the public.
Japan's population is forecast to drop to some 86.7 million in 2060 with the proportion of people aged 65 or over estimated to reach nearly 40 per cent of the total, the government has warned.