science of us

Most Young People Have No Idea When Their Fertility Declines

Photo: Mike Kemp/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Though fertility is an anxiety-inducing issue for many women, a new study shows that many younger women (and men) are poorly informed as to the age at which conceiving a baby becomes significantly more difficult. In a survey of 1,215 Australian college students, researchers found that fewer than half knew that female fertility declines after the age of 35, and even fewer students — one in five — knew that male fertility declines after the age of 45.

Many of the women surveyed listed a number of ambitious goals they hoped to achieve before giving birth: all but 10 percent said they wanted to have children, but among those who did, many only wanted them after completing their education, advancing their careers, traveling, and gaining access to employment compatible with child care — a tall order for anyone, let alone anyone under the age of 35.

While some of the survey respondents guessed that female and male fertility declined earlier than they actually do, about a third of men and women thought that the drop-off in female fertility only started after 40. A quarter of men and almost a third of women thought that male fertility only starts to decline after 50.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Eugenie Prior of the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority in Melbourne, told the New York Times that the study was motivated in part by those women who seek help for infertility only in their late 30s, by which time their chances of conceiving are already reduced. (Notably, a third of survey respondents also overestimated the likelihood of a 40-year-old woman being able to have a child via IVF.) “We were surprised that while the vast majority of young people want to have children in the future, there are so many other things they want to do before becoming parents that it may be difficult to do all these and have children within the limits of their fertility,” she told the Times. To better educate young people about their fertility, Prior says more comprehensive sex education is necessary, though that doesn’t seem likely to happen in the U.S. anytime soon.

Most Young People Don’t Know When Their Fertility Declines