Less than half of young women know when fertility declines: study

Less than half of women university students are able to correctly identify the age when a woman's fertility declines, but most are committed to the idea of establishing their career before having a family.

These are the results of a large-scale Australian study on young people and fertility, which found that, while young people overwhelmingly want children, few understand the biological limits on natural conception.

More than half of young women do not know when their fertility will decline, an Australian study has revealed.

More than half of young women do not know when their fertility will decline, an Australian study has revealed.

Researchers surveyed 1,215 University of Melbourne students aged between 18 and 30 on their knowledge of fertility and future plans for a family.

Just 45 per cent of young women and 38 per cent of young men correctly identified 35-39 as the age range when a woman's fertility begins to decline. Unfortunately, over half of the women surveyed expected to be having children over the age of 35.

Participants' knowledge about men's fertility was worse: only 18.3 per cent of young men and 16.9 per cent of young women knew a man's fertility begins to decline between the ages of 45 and 49. However, only 3.8 per cent of men expected to be having children past this age.

The study, published in Human Fertility this week, showed young people overwhelmingly were interested in having a family, with less than 8 per cent of young men and women saying they did not want kids.

Of those who had not ruled having a family out, the men were more likely to say they definitely wanted children, with 78.2 per cent of male participants making this statement, compared to 72.7 per cent of women. The remaining students said they were "not sure".

Dr Eugenie Prior, lead author of the study, said it was concerning that so many women wanted to have children at a time associated with declining fertility, noting they may be "making decisions about their future fertility without having the necessary information to make an informed decision".

In addition, there were certain milestones which most women said they would want to reach before having children: 83 per cent of young women said they considered it important to have completed their studies before having children, while 72 per cent wanted "permanent" employment.

Over 65 per cent considered it important to have advanced in their profession before having children.

Reproductive endocrinologist and fertility specialist at the Royal Women’s Hospital, and co-author of the study, Dr Raelia Lew said the results mirrored the lack of knowledge and she saw in patients on a daily basis.

“What we’re seeing is a big social disconnect between young people’s views and goals, and biological reality,” Dr Lew said.

Dr Prior said she was surprised to learn that roughly as many young men were looking to have children in the future as young women, viewing the study as highlighting a need to educate all young people about fertility.

"Overall, the vast majority of young people want to become parents one day, but they also have a lot of other things they want to achieve before this," she said. "This highlights the importance of educating young people about the limits of their fertility, as well as having the necessary social supports in place that will allow young people to become parents when it is ideal biologically while balancing this against their goals and aspirations for their future."

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