The reduction in switchable polarization of ferroelectric thin films due to electrical stress (polarization fatigue) is a major problem in ferroelectric nonvolatile memories. There is a large body of available experimental data and a number of existing models which address this issue, however the origin of this phenomena is still not properly understood. This work synthesizes the current experimental data, models, and approaches in order to draw conclusions on the relative importance of different macro- and microscopic scenarios of fatigue. Special attention is paid to the role of oxygen vacancy migration and electron injection into the film and it is concluded that the latter plays the predominant role. Experiments and problems for theoretical investigations, which can contribute to the further elucidation of polarization fatigue mechanisms in ferroelectric thin films, are suggested. (C) 2001 American Institute of Physics.