Total fertility rate

Not to be confused with birth rate.
A world map showing countries by total fertility rate (TFR), according to the CIA World Factbook's 2015 data.

  7–8 children
  6–7 children
  5–6 children
  4–5 children

  3–4 children
  2–3 children
  1–2 children
  0–1 children

A world map showing countries by total fertility rate (TFR), according to World Population Prospects 2015 by UN.

The total fertility rate (TFR), sometimes also called the fertility rate, absolute /potential natality, period total fertility rate (PTFR) or total period fertility rate (TPFR) of a population is the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime if:

  1. She were to experience the exact current age-specific fertility rates (ASFRs) through her lifetime, and
  2. She were to survive from birth through the end of her reproductive life.[1]

It is obtained by summing the single-year age-specific rates at a given time.

Parameter characteristics

Total fertility rate by region
Total fertility rate for selected countries
World historical TFR (1950–2015)
UN, average variant, 2010 rev.[2]

The TFR is a synthetic rate, not based on the fertility of any real group of women since this would involve waiting until they had completed childbearing. Nor is it based on counting up the total number of children actually born over their lifetime. Instead, the TFR is based on the age-specific fertility rates of women in their "child-bearing years", which in conventional international statistical usage is ages 15–44 or 15–49.[3]

The TFR is, therefore, a measure of the fertility of an imaginary woman who passes through her reproductive life subject to all the age-specific fertility rates for ages 15–49 that were recorded for a given population in a given year. The TFR represents the average number of children a woman would potentially have, were she to fast-forward through all her childbearing years in a single year, under all the age-specific fertility rates for that year. In other words, this rate is the number of children a woman would have if she was subject to prevailing fertility rates at all ages from a single given year, and survives throughout all her childbearing years.

Net reproduction rate

An alternative fertility measure is the net reproduction rate (NRR), which measures the number of daughters a woman would have in her lifetime if she were subject to prevailing age-specific fertility and mortality rates in the given year. When the NRR is exactly one, then each generation of women is exactly reproducing itself. The NRR is less widely used than the TFR, and the United Nations stopped reporting NRR data for member nations after 1998. But the NRR is particularly relevant where the number of male babies born is very high due to gender imbalance and sex selection. This is a significant factor in world population, due to the high level of gender imbalance in the very populous nations of China and India. The gross reproduction rate (GRR), is the same as the NRR, except that—like the TFR—it ignores life expectancy.

Total period fertility rate

The TFR (or TPFR—total period fertility rate) is a better index of fertility than the crude birth rate (annual number of births per thousand population) because it is independent of the age structure of the population, but it is a poorer estimate of actual completed family size than the total cohort fertility rate, which is obtained by summing the age-specific fertility rates that actually applied to each cohort as they aged through time. In particular, the TFR does not necessarily predict how many children young women now will eventually have, as their fertility rates in years to come may change from those of older women now. However, the TFR is a reasonable summary of current fertility levels.

Tempo effect

The TPFR (total period fertility rate) is affected by a tempo effect—if age of childbearing increases (and life cycle fertility in unchanged) then while the age of childbearing is increasing, TPFR will be lower (because the births are occurring later), and then the age of childbearing stops increasing, the TPFR will increase (due to the deferred births occurring in the later period) even though the life cycle fertility has been unchanged. In other words, the TPFR is a misleading measure of life cycle fertility when childbearing age is changing, due to this statistical artifact. This is a significant factor in some countries, such as the Czech Republic and Spain in the 1990s. Some measures seek to adjust for this timing effect to gain a better measure of life-cycle fertility.

Replacement rates

Further information: Sub-replacement fertility

Replacement fertility is the total fertility rate at which women give birth to enough babies to sustain population levels.

If there were no mortality in the female population until the end of the childbearing years (generally taken as 44, 45, or 49, though some exceptions exist) then the replacement level of TFR would be very close to 2.0. The replacement fertility rate is roughly 2.0 births per woman for most industrialized countries (2.075 in the UK, for example), but ranges from 2.5 to 3.3 in developing countries because of higher mortality rates.[6] Taken globally, the total fertility rate at replacement is 2.33 children per woman. At this rate, global population growth would tend towards zero.

A log-transformation of the data gives an alternative view of the relation. The coefficients taken literally imply that for each 1% advance in GDP, TFR diminishes by 0.26%.

Same fig., after log transformation. Circles proportional to population

Lowest-low fertility

The term "lowest-low fertility" is defined as TFR at or below 1.3.[7] This is characteristic of some Eastern European, Southern European and East Asian countries.[8] In 2001, more than half of the population of Europe lived in countries with lowest-low TFR, but the situation has since slightly improved.[9]

Population-lag effect

A population that maintained a TFR of 3.8 over an extended period without a correspondingly high death or emigration rate would increase rapidly (doubling period ~ 32 years), whereas a population that maintained a TFR of 2.0 over a long time would decrease, unless it had a large enough immigration. However, it may take several generations for a change in the total fertility rate to be reflected in birth rate, because the age distribution must reach equilibrium. For example, a population that has recently dropped below replacement-level fertility will continue to grow, because the recent high fertility produced large numbers of young couples who would now be in their childbearing years.

This phenomenon carries forward for several generations and is called population momentum, population inertia or population-lag effect. This time-lag effect is of great importance to the growth rates of human populations.

Symbol radius reflect population size in country

TFR (net) and long term population growth rate, g, are closely related. For a population structure in a steady state and with zero migration, g equals log(TFR/2)/Xm, where Xm is mean age for childbearing women and thus P(t) = P(0)*exp(g*t).- At the left side is shown the empirical relation between the two variables in a cross-section of countries with most recent y-y growth rate. The parameter 1/b should be an estimate of the Xm; here equal to 1/.02 = 50 years,- way off the mark because of population momentum. E.g. for log(TFR/2) = 0 g should be exactly zero, which is seen not to be the case.

Developed or developing countries

Further information: Income and fertility

Developed countries usually have a much lower fertility rate, often correlated with greater wealth, education, urbanization, or other factors. Mortality rates are low, birth control is understood and easily accessible, and costs are often deemed very high because of education, clothing, feeding, and social amenities. With wealth, contraception becomes affordable. In countries like Iran where contraception was subsidized before the economy accelerated, birth rate also rapidly declined. Further, longer periods of time spent getting higher education often mean women have children later in life. Female labor participation rate also has substantial negative impact on fertility, but not in all countries (for countries in the OECD, increased female labor participation has been associated with increased fertility[10]).

In undeveloped countries on the other hand, families desire children for their labour and as caregivers for their parents in old age. Fertility rates are also higher due to the lack of access to contraceptives, stricter adherence to traditional religious beliefs, generally lower levels of female education, and lower rates of female employment in industry. The total fertility rate for the world has been declining very rapidly since the 1990s. Some forecasters like Sanjeev Sanyal argue that, adjusted for gender imbalances, the effective global fertility will fall below replacement rate in the 2020s. This will stabilize world population by 2050, which is much sooner than the UN Population Division expects.[11]


Governments have often set population targets, to either increase or decrease the total fertility rate; or to have certain ethnic or socioeconomic groups have a lower of higher fertility rate. Often such policies have been interventionist, and abusive. The most notorious natalist policies of the 20th century include those in communist Romania and communist Albania, under Nicolae Ceaușescu and Enver Hoxha respectively. The policy of Romania (1967-1990) was very aggressive, including outlawing abortion and contraception, routine pregnancy tests for women, taxes on childlessness, and legal discrimination against childless people; and resulted in large numbers of children put into Romanian orphanages by parents who couldn't cope with raising them, street children in the 1990s (when many orphanages were closed and the children ended on the streets), overcrowding in homes and schools, and over 9,000 women who died due to illegal abortions.[12] Conversely, in China the government sought to lower the fertility rate, and, as such, enacted the one child policy (1978-2015), which included abuses such as forced abortions.[13] Some governments have sought to regulate which groups of society could reproduce through eugenic policies of forced sterilizations of 'undesirable' population groups. Such policies were carried out against ethnic minorities in Europe and North America in the first half of the 20th century, and more recently in Latin America against the Indigenous population in the 1990s; in Peru, President Alberto Fujimori (in office from 1990 to 2000) has been accused of genocide and crimes against humanity as a result of a sterilization program put in place by his administration targeting indigenous people (mainly the Quechuas and the Aymaras).[14] Within this historical contexts, the notion of reproductive rights has developed. Such rights are based on the concept that each person freely decides if, when, and how many children to have - not the state or church. According to the OHCHR reproductive rights "rest on the recognition of the basic rights of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. It also includes the right to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence, as expressed in human rights documents".[15]

United States

Map of U.S. states by total fertility rate (TFR) in 2013.
Period U.S. Total
1930–34 2.1
1935–39 2.0
1940–44 2.5
1945–49 3.0
1950–54 3.3
1955–59 3.7
1960–64 3.4
1965–69 2.6
1970–74 2.1
1975–79 1.8

The total fertility rate in the US after World War II peaked at about 3.8 children per woman in the late 1950s and by 1999 was at 2 children. This means that an imaginary woman (defined in the introduction) who fast-forwarded through her life in the late 1950s would have been expected to have about four children, whereas an imaginary woman who fast-forwarded through her life in 1999 would have been expected to have only about two children in her lifetime. The fertility rate of the total US population was just below the replacement level of about 1.9 children per woman in 1979.[17] However, the fertility of the population of the United States is below replacement among those native born, and above replacement among immigrant families, most of whom come to the U.S. from countries with higher fertility than that of the U.S. However, the fertility rates of immigrants to the U.S. have been found to decrease sharply in the second generation, correlating with improved education and income.[18] As of the beginning of 2016, there are 59.8 births per 1,000 women aged 15–44; this is the lowest number since records have been kept since 1909.[19]

World extremes

The lowest TFR recorded anywhere in the world in recorded history is for Xiangyang district of Jiamusi city (Heilongjiang, China) which had a TFR of 0.41.[20] Outside China, the lowest TFR ever recorded was 0.80 for Eastern Germany in 1994.


The average total fertility rate in the European Union (EU-28) is calculated at 1.58 children per woman in 2014.[21] This ranges from 1.2 in Portugal to 2.1 in France.[22]

In the non-EU European post-Soviet states group to 2015, Russia has a TFR of 1.78 children per woman,[23] Belarus 1.70 and Ukraine 1.50.[24]

Emigration of young adults from Eastern Europe to the West aggravates the demographic problems of those countries. People from countries such as Moldova, Romania, Hungary, and Czech Republic are particularly moving abroad.[25]

East Asia

See also: Aging of Japan

The TFR of Singapore, Macau, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea are the lowest in the world; with Singapore and Macau having a TFR below 1.[26] Japan too has a low TFR (1.40 in 2015[27]). Singapore mitigates this through immigrant workers, but in Japan there is a serious demographic problem.

Sub Saharan Africa

This region of the world has the highest TFR (Niger, Burundi, Mali, Somalia, and Uganda are highest).[28] The poverty of the region, and the high maternal mortality and infant mortality had led to calls from WHO of family planning and encouragement of smaller families.[29]


Further information: Sub-replacement fertility

A parent's number of children strongly correlates with the number of children that each person in the next generation will eventually have.[30] Factors generally associated with increased fertility include religiosity,[31] intention to have children,[32] and maternal support.[33] Factors generally associated with decreased fertility include wealth, education,[34] female labor participation,[35] urban residence,[36] intelligence, widespread birth control usage, increased female age and (to a lesser degree) increased male age. Many of these factors however are not universal, and differ by region and social class. For instance, at a global level, religion is correlated with increased fertility, but in the West less so: Scandinavian countries and France are among the least religious in the EU, but have the highest TFR, while the opposite is true about Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, Poland and Spain.[37]

See also


Case studies:



  1. Total fertility rate definition from CIA world factbook. Retrieved on 2012-09-17.
  2. UNdata: Total fertility rate (children per woman). Retrieved 2012-09-17. Archived June 7, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS), "Statistical Measures and Definitions" [retrieved 16 June 2010].
  4. "Field Listing: Total Fertility Rate". The World Factbook. Retrieved 2016-04-24.
  5. "Country Comparison: GDP - Per Capita (PPP)". The World Factbook. Retrieved 2016-04-24.
  6. Espenshade, T. J, Guzman, J. C., and Westoff, C. F. (2003). "The surprising global variation in replacement fertility". Population Research and Policy Review. 22 (5/6): 575. doi:10.1023/B:POPU.0000020882.29684.8e.
  10. Namkee Ahn; Pedro Mira (2002). "A Note on the Changing Relationship between Fertility and Female Employment Rates in Developed Countries". Journal of Population Economics. 15 (4): 667–682. doi:10.1007/s001480100078. JSTOR 20007839.
  11. Sanyal, Sanjeev (30 October 2011). "The End of Population Growth".
  12. Kligman, Gail. "Political Demography: The Banning of Abortion in Ceausescu's Romania". In Ginsburg, Faye D.; Rapp, Rayna, eds. Conceiving the New World Order: The Global Politics of Reproduction. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995 :234-255. Unique Identifier : AIDSLINE KIE/49442.
  16. Ben J. Wattenberg (1985). "Chapter 11. The Birth Dearth". The good news is the bad news is wrong. American Enterprise Institute. ISBN 978-0-671-60641-1.
  17. "Fertility rate, total (births per woman) - Data".
  18. "How Fertility Changes Across Immigrant Generations." Research Brief #58, Public Policy Institute of California, 2002.
  19. "Products - Vital Statistics Rapid Release - Natality Dashboard".
  20. Terrell, Heather Kathleen Mary, "Fertility in China in 2000: A County-Level Analysis" (2005), Texas A&M University.
  23. Russian Birth Rate above Regional Average, Euromonitor International, retrieved March 2013.
  24. United Nations Statistics Division – Demographic and Social Statistics. Retrieved on 2012-09-17.
  30. Murphy, Michael (2013). "Cross-National Patterns of Intergenerational Continuities in Childbearing in Developed Countries". Biodemography and Social Biology. 59 (2): 101–126. doi:10.1080/19485565.2013.833779. ISSN 1948-5565.
  31. Hayford, S. R.; Morgan, S. P. (2008). "Religiosity and Fertility in the United States: The Role of Fertility Intentions". Social Forces. 86 (3): 1163. doi:10.1353/sof.0.0000.
  32. Lars Dommermuth; Jane Klobas; Trude Lappegård (2014). "Differences in childbearing by time frame of fertility intention. A study using survey and register data from Norway". Part of the research project Family Dynamics, Fertility Choices and Family Policy (FAMDYN)
  33. Schaffnit, S. B.; Sear, R. (2014). "Wealth modifies relationships between kin and women's fertility in high-income countries". Behavioral Ecology. 25 (4): 834–842. doi:10.1093/beheco/aru059. ISSN 1045-2249.
  34. Rai, Piyush Kant; Pareek, Sarla; Joshi, Hemlata (2013). "Regression Analysis of Collinear Data using r-k Class Estimator: Socio-Economic and Demographic Factors Affecting the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in India." (PDF). Journal of Data Science. 11.
  35. David E Bloom; David Canning; Günther Fink; Jocelyn E Finlay. "Fertility, Female Labor Force Participation, and the Demographic Dividend" (PDF). National Bureau of Economic Research. Working Paper No. 13583. Issued in November 2007
  36. Sato, Yasuhiro (30 July 2006), "Economic geography, fertility and migration" (PDF), Journal of Urban Economics, retrieved 31 March 2008
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