TOKYO - Japan recorded a record low number of births in 2021, prompting the biggest ever natural decline in the population, government data showed on Friday.

There were 811,604 births last year, the fewest in health ministry data going back to 1899. Deaths climbed to 1,439,809, leading to an overall drop of 628,205 in the population.

The overall fertility rate -- the average number of children born to a woman in her lifetime -- slid for a sixth straight year, to 1.3.

Japan has one of the fastest aging populations on earth, and the country's closed borders over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic have hastened the shrinkage of its workforce.

(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Christina Fincher)