Annual Number of Live Births


The annual number of live births1 is defined as the number of live births taking place in a certain country or area during a year. Unless otherwise specified, the reference period for the number of live births presented in World Fertility Data 2008 is the calendar year.

Method of Computation

In most cases, the annual number of live births does not require computation since it is either enumerated or estimated directly by countries. In some cases, the annual number of births is estimated based on the reported crude birth rate, by multiplying the crude birth rate by the population as of mid-year, divided by 1,000.

Data Sources

Data on live births can be obtained from three sources: civil registration systems, sample surveys and censuses. Civil registration systems are considered the best source of information on the number of live births. However, some countries, especially those in the less developed regions, either lack a civil registration system or have a registration system whose coverage is too incomplete to be utilized for statistical purposes. Civil registration systems are considered to be complete if they cover 90 per cent or more of all live births taking place within a country or area.

In countries where civil registration systems are lacking, surveys and censuses can be utilized to estimate the number of live births. Such information is generally obtained from questions regarding the number of live births that occurred in the household in the 12 months preceding the census or survey enumeration, or questions on the date of birth of the last child born alive in the household. Compared to data from complete civil registration, such direct retrospective questions tend to yield less reliable estimates since they rely on the ability of individuals to recall with accuracy an event that took place several months or years before. Furthermore, while civil registration systems tend to generate annual estimates, the availability of survey and census data depends on the existence of adequate survey or census programmes. Censuses are generally conducted every 10 years. Surveys are undertaken at different intervals in different countries. In developing countries they typically take place every three to five years.

Criteria for Estimate Selection

  1. For civil registration systems, the annual number of births is obtained from country data reported by national statistical offices to the United Nations Statistics Division, the United Nations regional commissions or other regional statistical units. The data are also taken from reports and other analytical publications produced by national statistical offices. For countries and areas where the annual number of births is very small, the data present the average number of births occurring over two or more years.
  2. For surveys, whenever the estimates are available in the survey report they are directly taken from the report. In other cases, if microdata are available, estimates are produced by the United Nations Population Division based on national data. The main surveys utilized are the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), the Reproductive Health Surveys (RHS), the World Fertility Survey (WFS), the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), the Contraceptive Prevalence Surveys (CPS), and other nationally sponsored surveys.
  3. For censuses, preference is given to data reported by national statistical offices to the United Nations Statistics Division. Data are also taken from census reports and other analytical publications produced by national statistics offices. Adjusted estimates are only used when reported by the national statistical office.

Criteria for Selection and Reporting

Generally, only one source is provided per year for a country. When more than one source is available for the same period, preference is given to estimates based on civil registration. However, where such estimates are unavailable or incomplete, survey or census estimates are used. Registration data regarded as less than 90 per cent complete are used for countries where alternative sources are either not available or present problems of comparability, and where registration data can provide an assessment of trends. In countries with multiple survey programmes, sample surveys conducted on an annual or biennial basis are used where they exist. When such surveys are not available, censuses and other surveys are selected, in that order.

For each data point, information is provided on the source type (registration, census, survey or sample registration system) and the source (usually denoted by an acronym). A description of each acronym is given in the data file in the worksheet labeled 'Sources'. For surveys that are not part of an international survey programme, the full name is provided in the field 'Survey name'. Start and end years for the reference period covered by the data are reported when they differ from the calendar year.

Comments and Limitations

Limitations depend on the data source utilized to produce the estimates:

  1. For civil registration, estimates are subject to limitations that depend on the completeness of birth registration. Comparability of data is also affected by the treatment of infants born alive but who died before registration or within the first 24 hours of life, and the inclusion of births from previous periods2.
  2. For survey and census data, the main limitations concern birth omissions, misreporting of the date of birth of the child and, in the case of surveys, sampling variability.

Notes are used to indicate any differences between the data presented and the definition of annual number of births given above.


Generally, there is no discrepancy between estimates presented in World Fertility Data 2008 and the annual number of live births reported by national statistical offices. Estimates of the annual number of live births reported in World Fertility Data 2008, however, may differ from those calculated by the United Nations Population Division and published in the World Population Prospects. The latter are best estimates based on all available demographic data. The annual number of live births presented in World Fertility Data 2008 are direct estimates from country data.

Treatment of Missing Values

There is no attempt to provide estimates when country data are not available.

Data Coverage and Periodicity

World Fertility Data 2008 contains data on the annual number of live births for 231 countries or areas of the world. Data are provided, where available, for five reference dates: the closest years to 1970, 1985 and 1995, and the two most recent available years after 1999. Data are presented for five reference dates for 167 countries or areas.

  1. According to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision a 'live birth is the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of conception,irrespective of the duration of pregnancy, which, after such separation, breathes or shows any other evidence of life, such as beating of the heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definitive movement of voluntary muscles, whether or not the umbilical cord has been cut or the placenta is attached; each product of such a birth is considered liveborn'.
  2. While most countries and areas report information on the number of live births by date of occurrence, others present data tabulated by the date of registration. Depending on the timeliness with which live births are recorded, there can be considerable time lags between the date of occurrence and the date of registration.