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
JournalAmerican Journal of Biological Anthropology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 14 Mar 2023


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


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