Young people hear about fertility all the time—but how much do they truly understand it?
A new study published in the medical journal Human Fertility demonstrates that the answer may be “not enough.” The study—a survey—was conducted among over 1,200 university students in Melbourne, asking questions about their future parenthood plans and their knowledge about fertility and fertility decline. (Researchers chose college students because they’re more likely to delay childbearing, having children several years later on average than their counterparts who don’t pursue higher education.)
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The conclusion? While the majority (78% of men and 72% of women surveyed) were sure they wanted children one day, and many planned to have children up to age 39, fewer than half could correctly identify the age at which a woman’s fertility declines—and only 1 in 5 could identify the age at which a man’s fertility declines. Many participants also overestimated how helpful IVF is for older women, with just over half choosing the correct success rate after one IVF cycle for a 40-year-old woman (5%). (In comparison, the success rate for a 40-year-old woman using eggs she frozen at 30 will be over 40%.)
There does seem to be a level of self-awareness at play, though—less than 40% of both men and women surveyed rated their knowledge of fertility decline as “good.”
This is the latest in a long series of studies that concludes that, while people of childbearing age are optimistic about their chances of parenthood, even at later ages, most don’t have a true understanding of the effect of age on fertility. A 2016 survey by the Fertility Centers of Illinois of 1,208 American women ages 25–45 who had never been pregnant demonstrated that only 48% understood that there was an age-related decline in fertility and increase in aneuploidy and pregnancy loss.
And, in a 2011 survey that examined the fertility “IQ” of 1,010 women aged 25–35 who had never given birth and were not actively trying to conceive, only a third of respondents correctly identified age as the leading risk factor for infertility. Again, the respondents generally overestimated the success of IVF (believing IVF pregnancy rates to be 50–59% when they are actually 20–29%) and, importantly, were unaware of the importance of the age of the egg to in vitro fertilization success; 54% think that the chance of successful pregnancy via IVF does “not depend on the origin of the egg.”
So how can people get more informed? Much data points to the role of OB/GYNs in fertility education. In the 2016 study by the Fertility Center of Illinois, 89% of respondents agreed that infertility education should be mentioned at an OB/GYN visit. But in a 2016 survey by RMANJ, only 26% of women surveyed had had conversations with their OB/GYN about fertility, and nearly half (42%) of women surveyed who had experienced infertility reported that their OB/GYN never started a conversation with them about fertility.
Importantly, in the most recent study, both men and women overwhelmingly indicated that they would not feel uncomfortable if their doctor brought up the topic of future reproductive plans. (We’ve discussed before the importance that OB/GYNs and other doctors broach the “fertility talk.”)
It’s also part of our mission here at Extend Fertility to provide educational resources about fertility, so women can make informed decisions about their futures. If you want to learn more, check out one of our Egg Freezing 101 info sessions, browse our female fertility explainer, or contact us.