Monday, 7 November 2016

New SPHPM study finds that men believe older age no barrier to fatherhood

A recent study by researchers from SPHPM’s Jean Hailes Research Unit has found that many men underestimate the effect of age on fertility, with most seeing no barrier to becoming fathers in their 50s. Over 1,100 men of reproductive age from across Australia took part in the survey.

Published in the International Journal of Men’s Health, the research found that most Australian men wanted at least two children and thought it was acceptable for men older than 50 years to be fathers. 

However, they underestimated the effect of age on fertility with most unaware that women’s fertility starts to decline in their early thirties and men’s by their mid-forties. They also overestimated the ability of assisted reproductive technology (ART) such as IVF to overcome age-related fertility decline.

SPHPM Research Fellow Dr Sara Holton led the study and said that existing research about childbearing had almost exclusively focused on women and low fertility rates, but little was known about men’s parenthood aspirations and their role in childbearing decisions.

“We found that although most wanted and expected to become fathers, many men were unaware of the limits of the reproductive lifespan. Most men also thought it was ok for men to become fathers in their sixth decade of life and that ART can help women over 40 have children,” Dr Holton said.

“The reality is that older age reduces both male and female fertility and that ART cannot reverse this. To increase their chance of becoming fathers, men need to be aware of the factors that affect their own and their partner’s fertility, including age. Otherwise, they might miss out on having children or have fewer children than they had hoped to have.”

Australia’s fertility rate has been declining and has been below replacement level since the mid-1970s. This is the result of a growing proportion of Australian women and men remaining childless including those who are involuntarily childless.

“We believe that men and women need education about fertility so that they can make informed decisions about when to have children that are based on accurate information rather than incorrect perceptions,” Dr Holton said.

Although many men may believe they can have children at any age, in fact, as men get older the chances of them and their partner conceiving and having a healthy child decrease.

“Our findings suggest that reproductive health campaigns and sex education should be addressed to men as well as women to increase their knowledge about the limits of fertility. It may also be beneficial for health care providers to incorporate reproductive health education into primary care health consultations. This could include asking men about their childbearing desires and intentions and providing them with information to help them achieve their goals,” Dr Holton said. 

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