TOKYO (Reuters) – The number of babies born in Japan fell an estimated 5.9% this year to fewer than 900,000 for the first time since the government started compiling data in 1899, the welfare ministry said on Tuesday.

The dwindling number of births will put more strain welfare finances to support snowballing costs of supporting an aging population, which would undermine economic growth, analysts say.

There were 512,000 more deaths than births this year, the first time the figure has surpassed 500,000, with 864,000 babies born. Last year, 918,400 babies were born.

This was the biggest decline in births since 1975, driven by a fewer women aged 25 to 39, said a ministry official in charge of compiling the data.

The government is hoping for a birth rate of 1.8% – which wold appear a tall order given rate was 1.42% in 2018.

(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Robert Birsel)