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Working Paper

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This study examines the role of tempo effects in the fertility declines of developing countries. These effects temporarily inflate the total fertility rate (relative to the actual fertility of cohorts of women) during periods when the age at childbearing declines and they deflate it when childbearing is postponed. An analysis of data from the World Fertility Surveys and the Demographic and Health Surveys demonstrates that fertility trends observed in many developing countries are likely to be distorted by changes in the timing of childbearing. In most countries women are delaying childbearing, which implies that observed fertility is lower than it would have been without tempo changes. This pattern is most clearly documented in Taiwan, where accurate birth statistics from a vital registration system make it possible to estimate the tempo components of fertility annually from 1978 to 1993. The small but unexpected rise in the total fertility rates in Colombia in the early 1990s is attributed to a decline in the negative tempo distortion that prevailed in the 1980s. Similar interruptions of ongoing fertility declines may occur in the future in other countries when existing negative tempo effects are removed.