In the United States, postponement of childbearing has become more commonplace in favor of pursuing education, securing economic stability and delayed marriage. Unfortunately this trend could mean that some couples will experience infertility, simply because they were unaware of the role age plays in the female fertility cycle.
“The findings from this study show that while undergraduate university students in our sample believe they are educated about fertility issues, they consistently overestimate the ages at which fertility declines in women, as well as their chances of success if they used fertility treatments to achieve pregnancy. It is important that men and women are educated regarding fertility issues so they make informed reproductive decisions rather than relying on inaccurate information, which may ultimately result in involuntary childlessness. – Dr. Peterson”
246 undergraduate students participated in the study, 54% were female and 46% were male, with the mean age being 20. The participants were asked a wide range of questions about fertility awareness and assisted reproductive technology (ART). Despite a high percentage of participants desiring to have children in the future, the results showed a high percentage of participants overestimating the age at which women experience a marked decrease in fertility (67% of women, 81% of men). In addition, 52% of women and 64% of men overestimated the chances that couples who undergo IVF would have a child following one treatment. Over half of all participants believed that they were “educated” or “very educated” regarding fertility issues.
Social trends in the U.S. show that there has been an increase in age for first time mothers, yet only 2% of female participants in this study planned to have their first child at age 35 or older. This shows a disconnect from what women want for their lives and what is truly taking place, when it comes to having children.
This study is a follow-up to numerous studies on the same subject performed in Europe over the last 6 years. Dr. Peterson wanted to see if similar studies applied to university students in the U.S. His findings confirms the European studies findings.
Important highlights from this study:
- 89% or participants indicated that having children was highly important to them.
Women and men report gaining knowledge of fertility issues from school (46%), family (20%), media (15%), friends (9%) and doctors/gynecologist come in last at (5%).
- 67% of women and 81% of men overestimated the age at which women experience a marked decrease in fertility.
- 52% of women and 64% of men overestimated the chances that couples who undergo IVF would have a child following one treatment.
- Most participants wanted to have at least two children at ages within a woman’s window of fertility, but over 50% of men and 40% of women wanted to have their last child between the ages of 35-44.
Fertility awareness, the age in which mothers are having their first child, and infertility rates are changing. The combination of lack of knowledge on the impact of age on female fertility, delaying conception efforts, either through natural means, or ART methods may be contributing to the rate of infertility. Women who delay conception efforts to their mid 30s to 40s may find it more difficult to conceive and carry to term. Assuming that ART methods will be a saving grace to those who find natural conception difficult is often misguided, considering the actual rates in which IVF is successful.
So what does this study say to me? It speaks of the deep rooted desire to have children that almost all human beings feel. I think it is very important that families, parents, and society speak freely and teach honestly about the female fertility cycle at a young age.
Our country has sex education in place, where they teach about sexual function and reproduction, but they don’t paint the whole picture, only a piece of it. For women, reproductive function only lasts for so long and yet for years we have been involved in a movement toward putting education, career and financial stability ahead of having children. I am not saying that is a bad thing because those aspects of life are very important. Living in the U.S affords women the right to choose when they will have children, this is something that I am beyond grateful for.
My worry is that the lack of understanding of the female fertility cycle, the postponement of childbearing, combined with the obsession American media has on female celebrities, who are having children in their mid-forties through IVF, is tricking our young adults and even older adults into thinking that you can easily have a baby at any age. The reality is, that on average, female fertility declines at the age of 35 – 37 years of age due to the natural aging process (egg health and ovarian reserve declines). This is the time when the female body begins to change as she moves through perimenopause and ultimately menopause. We have an excellent article that clearly details the female fertility cycle here…
If future generations were taught about when female fertility declines [and this truly begins with each of us], then these young adults might be able to make informed decisions regarding family planning. Knowledge is power. Spreading this knowledge to future generations is invaluable and may help to prevent involuntary childlessness for some women and men.
Reference: Brennan D. Peterson,*, Matthew Pirritano, Laura Tucker, and Claudia Lampic. Fertility awareness and parenting attitudes among American male and female undergraduate university students, Human Reproduction, Vol.27, No.5 pp. 1375–1382, 2012. Advanced Access publication on March 8, 2012 doi:10.1093/humrep/des011