Exploring the ‘True Value’ of Replacement Rate Fertility


The concept of ‘replacement rate fertility’ [RRF] is widely known and referred to regularly in the popular, policy and academic literature. Sometimes presented as a ‘target’ or an ‘ideal’ fertility rate, it is usually specified as being a period total fertility rate [TFR] of ‘around 2.1’. This paper has two goals—firstly to explore the extent to which global contemporary RRF is, indeed, ‘around 2.1’; and secondly to evaluate this status a ‘target’ for national and international policymakers. We find that, in the first instance, global RRF is not 2.1; but the UN projection model suggests it will converge to this in the future. Skewed sex ratios at birth and high levels of maternal and adult mortality mean that RRF was significantly greater than 2.1 in the past, and is still the case for many countries today. We suggest that the real value of understanding and determining the value of TFR in any given territory is an indicator of human development. Rather than the popular notion of a ‘target’ TFR of ‘around 2.1’ as being an arbitrary (and ill-defined) aim for territorial population replacement, governments should aim to achieve a RRF of around 2.1, which indicated negligible mortality and a biologically normal sex ratio at birth.

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Correspondence to Stuart Gietel-Basten.

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Gietel-Basten, S., Scherbov, S. Exploring the ‘True Value’ of Replacement Rate Fertility. Popul Res Policy Rev (2019).

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  • Replacement rate
  • Fertility
  • Mortality
  • Inequality
  • Sex ratio
  • Human development
  • Population growth