Misleading Policy Messages Derived from the Period TFR: Should We Stop Using It?

Tomáš Sobotka, Wolfgang Lutz


Discussions about fertility in developed countries refer almost exclusively to the period Total Fertility Rate (TFR). We argue that the use of this indicator frequently leads to incorrect interpretations of period fertility levels and trends, resulting in distorted policy conclusions and, potentially, in misguided policies. We illustrate this with four policy-relevant examples, drawn from contemporary Europe. These illustrations show that the TFR (a) inflates the presumed gap between fertility intentions and realised fertility, (b) erroneously suggests a significant fertility increase in many countries of Europe after the year 2000, (c) often exaggerates the level of immigrants’ fertility and (d) frequently suggests that family-related policies which led to shorter birth spacing in fact brought an upward swing in fertility level. There seems to be no policy-relevant question for which the period TFR would be the indicator of choice to be preferred over other existing measures.


Fertility measurement; Total fertility; Policies; Fertility intentions; Fertility timing; Tempo effect

Full Text:

PDF - PDF (Deutsch)

Copyright (c) 2011 Comparative Population Studies

Copyright website © 2018 Federal Institute for Population Research