In demographic contexts, fertility refers to the actual production of offspring, rather than the physical capability to produce which is termed fecundity. While fertility can be measured, fecundity cannot be. Demographers measure the fertility rate in a variety of ways, which can be broadly broken into "period" measures and "cohort" measures. "Period" measures refer to a cross-section of the population in one year. "Cohort" data on the other hand, follows the same people over a period of decades. Both period and cohort measures are widely used.
- Crude birth rate (CBR) - the number of live births in a given year per 1,000 people alive at the middle of that year. One disadvantage of this indicator is that it is influenced by the age structure of the population.
- General fertility rate (GFR) - the number of births in a year divided by the number of women aged 15–44, times 1000. It focuses on the potential mothers only, and takes the age distribution into account.
- Child-Woman Ratio (CWR) - the ratio of the number of children under 5 to the number of women 15–49, times 1000. It is especially useful in historical data as it does not require counting births. This measure is actually a hybrid, because it involves deaths as well as births. (That is, because of infant mortality some of the births are not included; and because of adult mortality, some of the women who gave birth are not counted either.)
Coale's Index of Fertility - a special device used in historical research
- Total fertility rate (TFR) - the total number of children a woman would bear during her lifetime if she were to experience the prevailing age-specific fertility rates of women. TFR equals the sum for all age groups of 5 times each ASFR rate.
- Gross Reproduction Rate (GRR) - the number of girl babies a synthetic cohort will have. It assumes that all of the baby girls will grow up and live to at least age 50.
- Net Reproduction Rate (NRR) - the NRR starts with the GRR and adds the realistic assumption that some of the women will die before age 49; therefore they will not be alive to bear some of the potential babies that were counted in the GRR. NRR is always lower than GRR, but in countries where mortality is very low, almost all the baby girls grow up to be potential mothers, and the NRR is practically the same as GRR. In countries with high mortality, NRR can be as low as 70% of GRR. When NRR = 1.0, each generation of 1000 baby girls grows up and gives birth to exactly 1000 girls. When NRR is less than one, each generation is smaller than the previous one. When NRR is greater than 1 each generation is larger than the one before. NRR is a measure of the long-term future potential for growth, but it usually is different from the current population growth rate.
Social and economic determinants of fertility
A parent's number of children strongly correlates with the number of children that each person in the next generation will eventually have. Factors generally associated with increased fertility include religiosity, intention to have children, and maternal support. Factors generally associated with decreased fertility include wealth, education, female labor participation, urban residence, intelligence, increased female age and (to a lesser degree) increased male age.
The "Three-step Analysis" of the fertility process was introduced by Kingsley Davis and Judith Blake in 1956 and makes use of three proximate determinants: The economic analysis of fertility is part of household economics, a field that has grown out of the New Home Economics. Influential economic analyses of fertility include Becker (1960), Mincer (1963), and Easterlin (1969). The latter developed the Easterlin hypothesis to account for the Baby Boom.
Bongaarts' model of components of fertility
Bongaarts proposed a model where the total fertility rate of a population can be calculated from four proximate determinants and the total fecundity (TF). The index of marriage (Cm), the index of contraception (Cc), the index of induced abortion (Ca) and the index of postpartum infecundability (Ci). These indices range from 0 to 1. The higher the index, the higher it will make the TFR, for example a population where there are no induced abortions would have a Ca of 1, but a country where everybody used infallible contraception would have a Cc of 0.
TFR = TF × Cm × Ci × Ca × Cc
These four indices can also be used to calculate the total marital fertility (TMFR) and the total natural fertility (TN).
TFR = TMFR × Cm
TMFR = TN × Cc × Ca
TN = TF × Ci
- The first step is sexual intercourse, and an examination of the average age at first intercourse, the average frequency outside marriage, and the average frequency inside.
- Certain physical conditions may make it impossible for a woman to conceive. This is called "involuntary infecundity." If the woman has a condition making it possible, but unlikely to conceive, this is termed "subfecundity." Venereal diseases (especially gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia) are common causes. Nutrition is a factor as well: women with less than 20% body fat may be subfecund, a factor of concern for athletes and people susceptible to anorexia. Demographer Ruth Frisch has argued that "It takes 50,000 calories to make a baby". There is also subfecundity in the weeks following childbirth, and this can be prolonged for a year or more through breastfeeding. A furious political debate raged in the 1980s over the ethics of baby food companies marketing infant formula in developing countries. A large industry has developed to deal with subfecundity in women and men. An equally large industry has emerged to provide contraceptive devices designed to prevent conception. Their effectiveness in use varies. On average, 85% of married couples using no contraception will have a pregnancy in one year. The rate drops to the 20% range when using withdrawal, vaginal sponges, or spermicides. (This assumes the partners never forget to use the contraceptive.) The rate drops to only 2 or 3% when using the pill or an IUD, and drops to near 0% for implants and 0% for tubal ligation (sterilization) of the woman, or a vasectomy for the man.
- After a fetus is conceived, it may or may not survive to birth. "Involuntary fetal mortality" involves natural abortion, miscarriages and stillbirth (a fetus born dead). Human intervention intentionally causing abortion of the fetus is called "therapeutic abortion".