College Students Want Children, but Don’t Know When Fertility Declines


Fewer than half of university students surveyed knew that female fertility declines after 35, and only one in five knew male fertility declines at 45.

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Fewer than half of university students were able to correctly identify the age at which a woman’s fertility declines, according to a new study, and fewer than one in five knew when a man’s fertility declines.

The study, published in the journal Human Fertility, was based on a survey of 1,215 students at a university in Melbourne, Australia.

Most study participants said they wanted to have children, but many women said they plan to postpone childbearing until after they complete their education, advance in their careers, have access to child care and jobs that could be combined with having children, and have traveled and done other things that may be difficult with children.

“Our study shows university students overwhelmingly want to be parents, but most have an unrealistic expectation of what they will achieve prior to conception,” said Dr. Eugénie Prior of the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority in Melbourne, who led the study.

Only 38 percent of men and 45 percent of women stated correctly that a woman’s fertility declines between 35 and 39 years of age, and only 18 percent of men and 17 percent of women knew that men’s fertility declines between 45 and 49, the authors said.

Many study participants thought male fertility starts to decline before 45, but about a quarter of men and nearly a third of women thought male fertility starts to decline only at 50. Many respondents also thought female fertility starts to decline before age 30, but about a third of men and women thought female fertility starts to decline only at 40.

Participants also overestimated the chances that a 40-year-old woman will be successful in having a baby after one round of in vitro fertilization.

Dr. Prior said the researchers did the survey because many women don’t seek help for infertility until they’re in their late 30s, and by then, their chances of success are already greatly reduced. “We wanted to understand what young people actually knew about fertility,” she said.

“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. It was worrying that they seemed to be making these choices without being informed about the effects of age on fertility.”

“The conversation about fertility needs to start early,” she said. “We should start educating young people about their fertility and the limits of fertility in sex education at school,” and primary care doctors should also raise the subject during visits. The study found that young adults would welcome the discussion.



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