Work on the Human Fertility Database (HFD) began in 2007 as a collaborative project involving research teams at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock (Germany) and the Vienna Institute of Demography (VID) in Vienna (Austria).

The idea of the Human Fertility Database was largely inspired by the success story of the Human Mortality Database that has become the key source of high-quality mortality data for the international research community since its launch in 2002. Vladimir Shkolnikov (former co-director of the HFD) and Dmitri Jdanov (current co-director of the HFD), who were intensively engaged in the HFD project right from the start, also formed a part of the HMD Team in Rostock. Their expertise and experience with such a major data collection effort enabled a rapid take-off of the HFD project.

The HFD project development coupled with a rising interest in low fertility and an increasing need for detailed comparative data on fertility. Numerous studies on international fertility trends, by Gerard Calot, Jean-Paul Sardon and Tomas Frejka, based on the Observatoire demographique europeen (ODE) collection of fertility data, indicated the advantages of analyzing detailed fertility data in a comparative perspective and highlighted the need for more intensive efforts in international data collection.

At the First HMD Symposium (Rostock, 2004), John Wilmoth proposed the idea of a fertility database, similar to the HMD. During 2006-2007, there were extensive consultations involving Tomáš Sobotka, Vladimir Shkolnikov and other researchers from both the MPIDR and the VID. They all shared the view that the low availability of standardized, detailed and comparable fertility data hinders 'state of the art' research on contemporary fertility.

In 2007, Joshua R. Goldstein, the former MPIDR Director, decided to set up the Human Fertility Data Project at the MPIDR and to head this project. The project was included in research plans of the Laboratory of Demographic Data at the MPIDR. In parallel, the VID (specifically, Dimiter Philipov and Tomáš Sobotka) and the French National Demographic Institute (INED, in particular Laurent Toulemon), included the initiation of fertility database as one of the goals in the eventually successful application for the EU-funded REPRO project in May 2007 and the VID Director, Wolfgang Lutz, included the HFD project in the research program of the VID.

The HFD is designed as a database combining the methodological research and data collection efforts into a single project. It provides detailed data on cohort and period fertility produced by means of scientifically sound and uniform methods and presented in a user-friendly way that facilitates studies by a broad audience of users.

The first outline of the HFD was presented and discussed in depth with Jean-Paul Sardon, Laurent Toulemon, and John Wilmoth at the Second HMD Symposium held at the MPIDR on June 13-14, 2008. The first HFD prototype was shown at the Population Association of America Annual Meeting held on April 30-May 2, 2009 in Detroit. The first fully functioning version of the HFD was demonstrated at the Session 11 at the XXVI IUSSP International Population Conference in Marrakech on September 28, 2009.

Shortly after the launch of the HFD, the HFD project team developed a companion database, the Human Fertility Collection (HFC). It was introduced to population researchers for the first time at the International IUSSP Conference in Busan, Republic of Korea in 2013. The HFC was created to supplement the HFD by providing fertility rates and indicators, constructed by researchers, research organizations and statistical agencies, which are not necessarily based on officially data sources. HFC data are, therefore, less consistent and less comparable across countries and time than HFD data. At the same time, the HFC is flexible and contains fertility data for countries and years that cannot be included in the HFD. For a selected number of countries, HFC data are available not only for females but also for males. For a selected number of countries, HFC data are available not only for females but also for males.

In March 2021, in response to the high interest in studying the impact as well as the short- and long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for fertility trends, the HFD team introduced the Short-Term Fertility Fluctuations (STFF) series. The STFF provides up-to-date data on monthly births for selected countries together with an STFF visualization toolkit. In December 2021, the STFF was expanded to include crude monthly total fertility rates and calendar and seasonally adjusted monthly births and monthly total fertility rates.

The HFD Project team has organized three Human Fertility Database Symposiums (2011 in Rostock, 2016 in Berlin, and 2018 in Vienna) and one HFD side meeting at the 2015 PAA Annual Meeting held in San Diego (USA). The meetings aimed to promote research and to discuss methodological challenges associated with population-level fertility data.