Estimating Fertility using Adults: A Method for Under-enumerated Pre-adult Skeletal Samples

Bonnie R Taylor* (Corresponding Author), Marc Oxenham, Clare McFadden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Infant underrepresentation poses a great risk to accurate palaeodemographic findings when analysing skeletal samples. Empirically derived palaeodemographic methods all require unbiased or minimally biased pre-adult representation for estimating demographic characteristics, including fertility. Currently, there are no reliable methods for estimating palaeodemographic parameters when pre-adults are underrepresented in skeletal samples, consequently such samples are often excluded from palaeodemographic analyses. The aim of this paper is to develop a method for estimating total fertility rate (TFR) using reproductive aged adults, specifically for samples with suspected pre-adult under-enumeration.
Methodology: United Nations mortality data and TFR from the World Population Prospects was utilised. The correlation between known fertility and the proportion of individuals in key reproductive years (15-49 years) to total adult sample (15+ years) was assessed as an indirect means to estimate fertility.
Results: It was determined that the proportion of reproductive aged adults is a reasonable proxy for fertility. A significant positive correlation was observed between the TFR and those who died aged 15-49 years of age as a proportion of those who died ≥15 years (D15-49/D15+). Standard error of the estimate revealed reasonable predictive accuracy. When applied to two modern non-agricultural populations, the method showed some variability in accuracy but good potential for an improved outcome over existing methods when pre-adults are underrepresented.
Conclusion: This research has provided a new method for estimating fertility in archaeological skeletal samples with pre-adult under-enumeration. In combination with a contextually focussed approach, this provides a significant step towards further use of biased samples in palaeodemography
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-270
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Biological Anthropology
Issue number2
Early online date28 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank the reviewers for their suggestions which contributed to the improvement of this article. This research was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.
Article Funding
Open access publishing facilitated by Australian National University, as part of the Wiley - Australian National University agreement via the Council of Australian University Librarians.

Data Availability Statement

The data which was used in this article are available in the Supplementary Information. Original data source is referenced in this article and is publicly available for download from the United Nations World Population Prospects


  • Palaeodemography
  • Bias
  • Infant under-enumeration
  • Fertility
  • Uniformitarianism


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