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Average Number of Children per Woman in China, Europe, USA and India: 1950-2100

Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2011): World Population Prospects, the 2010 Revision. New York. See:
Note: This chart displays average Total Fertility Rates by five-year intervals.

China's women, on average, had more than 6 children in the early 1950s. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR), which measures the average number of children per women, briefly dropped in the late 1950s and early 1960s, as China went through the disaster of the "Great Leap Forward" - which was one of the largest famines in human history. By the late 1960s, China's TFR had again increased to more than 6 children per woman. The very high fertility in the early 1950s and late 1960s corresponded well with Mao's political dogma that a huge population would increase China's military, economic and political power. This high fertility caused the enormous population increase of modern China and is now responsible for the huge momentum that is built into China's age structure.

With the start of China's "one-child" population policy, however, the country experienced a most dramatic fertility decline. Hundreds of millions of women reduced their fertility and by the early 1990s the country's TFR had dropped below the so-called "reproductive level" of about 2.1. Measured by (period) fertility, China's women, on average, now have less children than are necessary to replace the parent generation.

While fertility measures in China are still highly uncertain most experts agree that the TFR is now well below 2.1 children per woman. The range of uncertainty is indicated by the fact that credible sources (both inside and outside of China) have published TFR estimates that range between 1.4 and 1.8 children per women.

With about 2.8 children per women, India's average fertility level in the 2005-2010 period, is still well above the reproductive level of 2.1. Moreover, since the early 1970s, India's fertility dropped only rather slowly. This has generated very large generations of young people for more than four decades. India's average number of children is still above the reproductive level of 2.1. This delayed fertility decline will eventually cause India to outgrow China. By 2050, India will have almost 400 million more inhabitants than China; by the end of the century, India's population could be more than 600 million larger than China's population.

Europe's average level of fertility, on the other hand, has been been below 2.1 since the early-1970s. The continent, as whole, has had less children for more than three decades (or roughly one generation) than would have been necessary to replace one generation with the next.

The United States of America had its baby boom in the mid-1950s with an average number of children of about 3.7. This was followed by a steep fertility decline. By the late 1970s average fertility in the United States was lower than in Europe. However, by the late 1990s fertility levels had increased (primarily due to higher fertility of immigrants). Currently fertility in the US of America is slightly above reproductive level.

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This section was updated on 9 June 2011.

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Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved. - 18 April 2012