Fertility Rates

By Alex Jackson

Last updated on

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The content on this page is extremely old. Much has changed in the world since this article was written. While many of the concepts will still be relevant, figures and case studies are likely to be outdated at this point.

Crude Birth Rate
The total number of births in a single year per 1000 of the population. This doesn’t include the age and sex structure of a population.
General Fertility Rate
The number of live berths per 1,000 women aged 15–49 in one year. May also be used to derive the general fertility rate for women in particular age bands.
Fertility Rate
The average number of children born to a woman in her lifetime.

World Fertility Levels

  • Fertility is still high in most of the least developed countries and although it is expected to decline, it will remain higher than the rest of the world.
  • In the rest of the developing countries, fertility has declined markedly since the late 1960’s and is expected to reach below replacement level by 2050 in the majority of these countries.
  • Below replacement fertility prevails in the developed regions and is expected to continue to 2050.

Replacement Level Fertility

  • Replacement level fertility is the level of fertility at which a population exactly replaces itself from generation to generation.
  • In developed countries, replacement level fertility can be taken as an average of 2.1 per woman.
  • In countries with high infant mortality rates, however, the average number of births may need to be much higher.

Factors Effecting Fertility Rates


Level Of Healthcare

  • Improvements in health care, sanitation & diet lead to a drop in infant mortality rate e.g. The Demographic Republic of Congo has a total fertility rate of 6.91 and 0.088 doctors per 1000 people.
  • Availability of contraceptives for couples with knowledge and desire to use it e.g. Rwanda, where 10% of women practice modern methods of family planning and where the total fertility rate is 5.12. In Brazil, 70% of women practice modern methods of family planning and the total fertility rate is 2.21.

Level Of Education

  • In some countries, access to healthcare and education may be limited e.g. Afghanistan, total fertility rate of 7.7 with 0.17 doctors per 1000 & a female literacy rate of 13%.
  • Higher female literacy rates lead to improved knowledge of birth control, more opportunities for employment and more choice. This may lead to lower fertility rates.



  • Islam and the Roman Catholic church oppose the use of birth control although this influence may lessen with economic development.
  • In many parts of the world religion/tradition demands high rates of reproduction.

The Status of Women

  • Women in some countries are obliged to produce as many children as possible e.g. Nigeria, total fertility rate 4.9.


  • In some countries, the number of children is seen as a sign of virility and wealth.


Employment Opportunities

  • With the prospect of a career, women may have less children and marry later. e.g. the average marital age in the UK is 30.

  • Reduced access to formal employment and other income earning opportunities means women are forced to devote most of their time and energy to child bearing.

The Cost Of Having Children

  • Children are seen as economic assets in LEDCs. They can be used as workers on land or to bring in more income.
  • The time spent in education and the cost of childcare makes it more expensive to have a child. In the UK (TFR 1.66) the estimated cost of raising a child to 21 is £166,000.


Pressure from the Government

  • Some governments will try to influence the rate of population growth e.g. The chinese attempting to reduce the birth rate or Japan attempting to increase it.


Infant Mortality Rates

  • High birth rates to compensate a high infant mortality rate e.g. Nigeria with a birth rate of 5.16.
  • Reduced infant mortality rate reduces the need for lots of children for security. e.g. Japan’s birth rate of 7.64 with an infant mortality rate of 2.79.

Age Structures

  • Countries with a large proportion of young people may continue to see a population increase due to population momentum.
  • Countries with a small proportion of youth face population decline even if birth rates per woman increase e.g. Japan.