The total fertility rate (TFR) gives an indication of the number of children an average woman will have in her lifetime. The size of the population remains stable if the total fertility rate is a little over two, allowing for some mortality during infancy and childhood. This so-called “replacement rate” is around 2.1 children per women for industrialised countries but it may be higher for poorer countries.

Total fertility rates vary considerably in the Asia/Pacific region (Figure 2.4). In 2019, women in the region had on average 2.3 children compared with at 1.6 children across the OECD on average. At four children or more per women on average, fertility rates in island countries such as Timor-Leste and Samoa are high. By contrast, fertility rates are lowest in Korea, Hong Kong, China (China) and Singapore at around one child per woman. Japan, Thailand and Macau, China (China) all also have TFRs that are below the OECD average.

Birth rates have declined sharply over the past decades. The TFR average across the Asia/Pacific region fell by almost 3 children per woman from 1970 to 2019. OECD member countries in the region, with the exception of Korea, experienced a slower decline in the TFR at less than 1.5 children per woman on average. The Maldives recorded the largest decline in the TFR, from over seven children per woman in 1970 to 1.8 in 2019. No country had higher TFRs in 2019 than in 1970. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Mongolia are the only economies which had higher TFRs in 2019 than in 1995.

Women in poor economies have much higher fertility rates than women in wealthier economies (Figure 2.5). In 2019, women in OECD and East Asian economies had the fewest children compared with the greater Asia/Pacific region. As more women gain higher educational attainment and pursue labour market careers, they tend to postpone having children and/or have fewer children altogether.

In countries where birth rates for adolescent girls are high – and where many young people are married (see Marriage and divorce), overall fertility rates are also relatively high (Figure 2.6). Adolescent fertility rates are lowest (around 1 child per 1 000 women age 15-19) in Korea and Korea DPR, and remain high in Lao PDR and Nepal (at over 60 per 1 000). Adolescent fertility rates are highest in Bangladesh at 82 births per 1 000 women age 15-19, almost three times the Asia/Pacific average (29 per 1 000) and almost six times more than the OECD average (14 per 1 000).


[1] OECD (2021), OECD Family Database, https://www.oecd.org/els/family/database.htm.

[2] United Nations (2019), World Fertility Data 2019, https://www.un.org/development/desa/pd/data/world-fertility-data.

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