Total fertility rate

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Map of countries by fertility rate (2020), according to the Population Reference Bureau

The total fertility rate (TFR) of a population is the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime if:

  1. she was to experience the exact current age-specific fertility rates (ASFRs) through her lifetime
  2. she was to live from birth until the end of her reproductive life.[1]

It is obtained by summing the single-year age-specific rates at a given time. As of 2020, the total fertility rate varied from 0.84 in South Korea[2] to 7.0 in Niger.[3]

Fertility tends to be correlated with the level of economic development. Historically, Developed countries usually have a significantly lower fertility rate, generally correlated with greater wealth, education, urbanization, and other factors. Conversely, in undeveloped countries, fertility rates tend to be higher. Families desire children for their labor 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.

The total fertility rate for the world has been declining rapidly since the 1960s. Some forecasters like Sanjeev Sanyal argue that the effective global fertility rate will fall below replacement rate, estimated to be 2.3, in the 2020s.[4][5] This would stabilize world population sometime during the period 2050-2070.[4] This differs from projections by the United Nations which estimates that some growth will continue even up to 2100.[6] Taken together, these projections imply that the population of this planet will reach zero growth sometime in the second half of this century, a major milestone for humanity.

Parameter characteristics[edit]

World historical TFR (1950–2020)[7]
Years TFR
1950–1955 4.96
1955–1960 4.89
1960–1965 5.03
1965–1970 4.92
1970–1975 4.46
1975–1980 3.87
1980–1985 3.59
1985–1990 3.44
1990–1995 3.02
1995–2000 2.75
2000–2005 2.63
2005–2010 2.57
2010–2015 2.52
2015–2020 2.47
Total fertility rate projections by region

The TFR is 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.[8]

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.

Related parameters[edit]

Net reproduction rate[edit]

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 1, then each generation of women is exactly reproducing itself.

Total fertility rate for selected countries [needs update]

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[edit]

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. TFR and long term population growth rate, g, are closely related. For a population structure in a steady state, growth rate equals log(TFR/2)/Xm, where Xm is the mean age for childbearing women.

Tempo effect[edit]

The TPFR (total period fertility rate) is affected by a tempo effect—if age of childbearing increases (and life cycle fertility is 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 [edit]

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

According to the UN Population Division, a total fertility rate (TFR) of about 2.1 children per woman is called replacement-level fertility.[9] If replacement level fertility is sustained over a sufficiently long period, each generation will exactly replace itself.[10] The replacement level of TFR is dependent also on maternal mortality and child mortality, and, as such, it is higher in underdeveloped countries. The replacement fertility rate is indeed only slightly above 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, especially child mortality.[11] The global average for the replacement total fertility rate (eventually leading to a stable global population) was 2.33 children per woman in 2003.[12]

Lowest-low fertility[edit]

The term "lowest-low fertility" is defined as TFR at or below 1.3.[13] This is characteristic of some Eastern European, Southern European, and East Asian countries.[14] For example, in 2001, more than half of the population of Europe lived in countries with the lowest-low TFR, although TFRs there have increased slightly since then.[15]

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.[16] Outside China, the lowest TFR ever recorded was 0.80 for Eastern Germany in 1994. The low Eastern German value was influenced by a change to higher age at birth, with the consequence that neither older cohorts (e.g. women born until the late 1960s), who often already had children, nor younger cohorts, who were postponing childbirth, had many children during that time. The total cohort fertility rate of each age cohort of women in East German did not drop as significantly.[17]

Population-lag effect[edit]

A plot of population growth rate vs total fertility rate (logarithmic). Symbol radius reflect population size in each country

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.

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(gt). At the left side is shown the empirical relation between the two variables in a cross-section of countries with the most recent y-y growth rate. The parameter 1/b should be an estimate of the Xm; here equal to 1/0.02 = 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.[citation needed]

Factors affecting total fertility rate[edit]

Fertility factors are determinants of the number of children that an individual is likely to have. Fertility factors are mostly positive or negative correlations without certain causations.

Factors generally associated with increased fertility include the intention to have children, very high level of gender equality, religiosity, inter-generational transmission of values, marriage and cohabitation, maternal and social support, rural residence, pro family government programs, low IQ. and increased food production.

Total Fertility Rate vs Human Development Index for Selected Countries

Factors generally associated with decreased fertility include rising income, value and attitude changes, education, female labor participation, population control, age, contraception, partner reluctance to having children, a low level of gender equality, and infertility.

Niger has the highest TFR in the world at 6.9 (2021 estimate)[18]

The effect of all these factors can be summarized with a plot of Total Fertility Rate against Human Development Index (HDI) for a sample of countries. The chart shows that the two factors are inversely correlated, that is, in general, the lower a country’s HDI the higher its fertility.

Another common way of summarizing the relationship between economic development and fertility is a plot of TFR against Per Capita GDP, a proxy for standard of living. This chart shows that Per Capita GDP is also inversely correlated with fertility.

The impact of human development on TFR can best be summarized by a quote from Karan Singh, a former minister of population in India.  At a 1974 United Nations population conference in Bucharest, she said "Development is the best contraceptive."[19]

Total Fertility Rate vs Per Capita GDP For Selected Countries. Population size shown as bubble area, (2016 estimates; 30 largest countries bold).[20][18][21]

Wealthy countries, those with high per capita GDP, usually have a lower fertility rate than poor countries, those with low per capita GDP. This may seem counter-intuitive. The inverse relationship between income and fertility has been termed a demographic-economic paradox because evolutionary biology suggests that greater means should enable the production of more offspring, not fewer.

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.[22]


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 or 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 up on the streets), overcrowding in homes and schools, and over 9,000 women who died due to illegal abortions.[23] 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.[24]

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).[25] 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".[26]

By region[edit]


The most populous country in Africa, Nigeria, had a TFR of 5.3 in 2018.[27] The second most populous country, Ethiopia, had an estimated TFR of 4.25 in 2018.[28]

This region of the world has the highest TFR (Niger, Burundi, Mali, Somalia, and Uganda are highest).[18] 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]

South Asia[edit]


The Indian fertility rate has declined significantly over the early 21st century. The Indian TFR declined from 3.2 in 2000 to 2.3 in 2016.[30] It then fell to 2.2 in 2018.[31] The TFR for 2019 was estimated at 2.1[32] According to recent surveys, TFR in India has further declined to 2.0 in 2021, marking the first time it has gone below replacement level.[33]


The fertility rate fell to 2.0 in Bangladesh in 2020.[34]

East Asia[edit]

Map of East Asia by total fertility rate (TFR) in 2020

Singapore, Macau, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea had lowest-low fertility, defined as TFR at or below 1.3, and were among the lowest in the world. Singapore and Macau had a TFR below 1.0 in 2017. North Korea had the highest TFR in East Asia at 1.95.[18]


The TFR of China was 1.3 in 2021.[18] China implemented the one-child policy in 1979 as a drastic population planning measure to control the ever-growing population at the time. In 2015, the policy was replaced with two-child policy as China's population is aging faster than almost any other country in modern history.[35]


Japan had a TFR of 1.4 in 2021.[18] Japan's population is rapidly aging due to both a long life expectancy and a low birth rate. The total population is shrinking, losing 430,000 in 2018 to a total of 126.4 million.[36] Hong Kong and Singapore mitigate this through immigrant workers, but in Japan, a serious demographic imbalance has developed, partly due to limited immigration to Japan.

South Korea[edit]

In South Korea, a low birthrate is one of its most urgent socio-economic challenges.[37] Rising housing expenses, shrinking job opportunities for younger generations, insufficient support to families with newborns either from the government or employers are among the major explanations for its crawling TFR, which fell to 0.92 in 2019.[38][39] Koreans are yet to find viable solutions to make the birthrate rebound, even after trying out dozens of programs over a decade, including subsidizing rearing expenses, giving priorities for public rental housing to couples with multiple children, funding day care centers, reserving seats in public transportation for pregnant women, and so on.

In the past 20 years, South Korea has recorded some of the lowest fertility and marriage levels in the world. As of 2020, South Korea is the country with the world’s lowest total fertility rate - 0.84, Especially in Seoul - 0.64, probably the lowest level anywhere in the world.

Latin America[edit]

The TFR of Brazil, the most populous country in the region, was estimated at 1.73 in 2021.[18] The second most populous country, Mexico, had an estimated TFR of 2.17.[18] The next most populous four countries in the region had estimated TFRs of between 1.9 and 2.3 in 2018, including Colombia (2.14), Argentina (2.2), Peru (2.0), and Venezuela (2.2). Guatemala had the highest estimated TFR in the region at 2.7 in 2018; and Puerto Rico the lowest at 1.21.[18]


The average total fertility rate in the European Union (EU-27) is calculated at 1.55 children per woman in 2018.[22] France had the highest TFR in 2018 among EU countries at 1.88, followed by Romania and Sweden (1.76), Ireland (1.75) and Denmark (1.73).[22] Malta had the lowest TFR in 2018 among EU countries at 1.23.[22] Other southern European countries also had very low TFR (Portugal 1.38, Cyprus, 1.32, Greece 1.35, Spain 1.26, and Italy 1.29).[22] According to 2021 estimates for the non-EU European post-Soviet states group, Russia had a TFR of 1.61, Moldova 1.57, Ukraine 1.55, and Belarus 1.49.[18] Bosnia and Herzegovina had the lowest estimated TFR in Europe in 2018, at 1.31.[18]

Emigration of young adults from Eastern Europe to the West aggravates the demographic problems of those countries. People from countries such as Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, and Bulgaria are particularly moving abroad.[40]

North America[edit]

United States[edit]

Map of U.S. states by total fertility rate (TFR) in 2013.
History of US Total Fertility Rate from 1933 to 2016.

The total fertility rate in the United States after World War II peaked at about 3.8 children per woman in the late 1950s, dropped to below replacement in the early 70s, and by 1999 was at 2 children.[41] Currently, the fertility is below replacement among those native born, and above replacement among immigrant families, most of whom come to the United States from countries with higher fertility. However, the fertility rate of immigrants to the United States has been found to decrease sharply in the second generation, correlating with improved education and income.[42] In 2020, U.S. TFR continued to decline, reaching 1.64.[43]


The TFR of Canada was 1.46 in 2020.[44]

Western Asia[edit]

In 2019, the TFR of Turkey reached 1.88.[45]

In the Iranian calendar year (March 2019- March 2020), Iran's total fertility rate fell to 1.8. [46]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Total fertility rate definition from CIA world factbook. Retrieved on 2012-09-17.
  2. ^ "Korea marks first-ever decline in registered population".
  3. ^ "Niger Total fertility rate - Demographics".
  4. ^ a b Sanyal, Sanjeev (30 October 2011). "The End of Population Growth". Project Syndicate.
  5. ^ Gietel-Basten, Stuart; Scherbov, Sergei (December 2, 2019). "Is half the world's population really below 'replacement-rate'?". Plos One.
  6. ^ "World Population Prospects 2019, Population Data, File: Total Population Both Sexes, Medium Variant". United Nations Population Division. 2019.
  7. ^ "World Population Prospects 2019, Dept of Economic and Social Affairs, File: Total Fertility". United Nations Population Division. 2019.
  8. ^ National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS), "Statistical Measures and Definitions" [retrieved 16 June 2010].
  9. ^ Craig, J (1994). "Replacement level fertility and future population growth". NIH, National Library of Medicine.
  10. ^ "World Health Organization, Total Fertility Rate". SEARO. Retrieved 2019-08-15.[dead link]
  11. ^ Espenshade TJ, Guzman JC, Westoff CF (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. S2CID 10798893.
  12. ^ Espenshade TJ, Guzman JC, Westoff CF (2003). "The surprising global variation in replacement fertility". Population Research and Policy Review. 22 (5/6). Introduction and Table 1, p. 580. doi:10.1023/B:POPU.0000020882.29684.8e. S2CID 10798893.
  13. ^ Kohler, Hans-Peter; Billari, Francesco C.; Ortega, José Antonio (February 15, 2006). "Low Fertility in Europe: Causes, Implications and Policy Options" (PDF). University of Pennsylvania - School of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2020-01-27.
  14. ^ Goldstein, Joshua R.; Sobotka, Tomáš; Jasilioniene, Aiva (November 2019). "The End of 'Lowest-Low' Fertility?" (PDF). Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. Retrieved 2020-01-27.
  15. ^ Sobotka, Tomás (2004). "Postponement of childbearing and low fertility in Europe" (PDF). University of Groningen. Retrieved 2020-01-27.
  16. ^ Terrell, Heather Kathleen Mary (May 2005). "Fertility In China In 2000: A County Level Analysis" (PDF). The Wayback Machine. p. 52. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2007-06-16.
  17. ^ Goldstein, Joshua R.; Kreyenfeld, Michaela (July 2011). "East Germany Overtakes West Germany: Recent Trends in Order-Specific Fertility Dynamics" (PDF). Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "China's Generation of Only Children Wants the Same for Their Kids". Foreign Policy. Foreign Policy. Retrieved January 28th, 2022. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |access-date= (help)CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  19. ^ Weil, David N. (2004). Economic Growth. Addison-Wesley. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-201-68026-3.
  20. ^ "Country Comparison :: Population size". The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 2017-05-30.
  21. ^ "Country Comparison :: GDP - per capita (PPP)". The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 2017-05-30.
  22. ^ a b c d e Eurostat (May 2020). "Fertility statistics".
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ "Shock at Chinese abortion photo". BBC News. 14 June 2012.
  25. ^ "Mass sterilisation scandal shocks Peru". 24 July 2002 – via
  26. ^ "Handbook" (PDF). Retrieved 2020-01-27.
  27. ^ [1], Nigeria TFR 2018
  28. ^ [2], CIA World Factbook 2018 Estimated TFR.
  29. ^ "WHO - Family planning in sub-Saharan Africa: progress or stagnation?". Archived from the original on October 6, 2013.
  30. ^ [3], Total Fertility Rate 2000-2016.
  31. ^ "Better education of women helped push total fertility rate down | India News - Times of India".
  32. ^ [4], India Times July 15, 2019.
  33. ^ "National Family and Health Survey: More women than men in India for the 1st time; Hindustan Times Nov 25, 2021".
  34. ^ "Fertility rate in Bangladesh 2.0, life expectancy 73yrs".
  35. ^ Rapoza, Kenneth (February 21, 2017). "China's Aging Population Becoming More Of A Problem". Forbes. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  36. ^ Harding, Robin (12 April 2019). "Info". Financial Times. Retrieved 2020-01-27.
  37. ^ Sang-Hun, Choe (2016-12-30). "South Korea's Plan to Rank Towns by Fertility Rate Backfires". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-08-15.
  38. ^ "Childbirth drops 10.4% in April". 24 June 2020.
  39. ^ Kwon, Jake (2019-08-29). "South Korea's fertility rate falls to record low - CNN". Retrieved 2020-01-27.
  40. ^ "Central and Eastern Europe Face Emigration Challenge". Stratfor.
  41. ^ "Fertility rate, total (births per woman)". The World Bank.
  42. ^ "How Fertility Changes Across Immigrant Generations." Research Brief #58, Public Policy Institute of California, 2002.
  43. ^ "Expect a baby bust, not a boom, from the coronavirus pandemic". Washington Post. 2020-06-16. Retrieved 2020-07-13.
  44. ^ "Crude birth rate, age-specific fertility rates and total fertility rate (Live births)". 29 September 2021.
  45. ^ ["Late marriages, late births: Turkish population below replacement level". 6 July 2020.
  46. ^ ["Iran's demographic issue: fertility reaches lowest rate in 8 years". 11 November 2020.


External links[edit]