The Human Fertility Database


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 an excellent resource of high-quality mortality data for the international research community since its launch in 2002. Vladimir Shkolnikov and Dmitri Jdanov, who are intensively engaged with the HFD, form also a part of the HMD Team in Rostock and work in a close collaboration with John Wilmoth and his colleagues from the US HMD Team. Their expertise and experience with such a major data collection effort has enabled the rapid take-off of the HFD project.

The last decade saw several important research results closely related to extensive collection of fertility data. In particular, 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 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 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 best of the earlier 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.