Indicator 7. Total fertility rate

Rationale and definition:

The total fertility rate is the average number of live births a woman would have by age 50 if she were subject, throughout her life, to the age-specific fertility rates observed in a given year. The calculation assumes that there is no maternal mortality. Falling total fertility rates may demonstrate an improvement in women’s ability to exercise their right to make informed and free choices over if, when, and how many children they would like to have.

A deep technical literature shows that high fertility rates are inversely related to the incidence of extreme poverty and per capita economic growth, gender inequality, maternal mortality and poor child health, environmental degradation, and other dimensions of sustainable development.1 Paragraph 13 of the Programme of Action adopted by the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) highlights also that reducing population growth through voluntary transition to lower fertility levels is one component of achieving sustainable development.2


By age and rural/urban.

Comments and limitations:

To be reviewed.

Preliminary assessment of current data availability by Friends of the Chair:


Primary data source:

Civil registration and vital statistics.

Potential lead agency or agencies:

Total fertility estimates are calculated for all countries by the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and appear in the biennial United Nations publication World Population Prospects. UNFPA would also be an important lead agency.3

  1. For a comprehensive review of the evidence linking population growth and fertility rates to sustainable development see UN Population Division (2011). Seven Billion and Growing: The Role of Population Policy in Achieving Sustainability. Technical Paper No. 2011/3. New York.

  2. SDSN (2013).

  3. See a revised version of the report (2012).