A survey of a thousand mostly urban professional women (around 30 years old, mostly white, college-educated with a full-time job and medical insurance, and had no kids, nor were actively trying) found a few gaps in knowledge of fertility, so the paper points out some things everyone should know:
- Fertility declines after 30, and is very low after 40: only 10% of women under 30 are infertile, but that number jumps to 25% for women aged 35-44. In fact, because of the big impact age has, a woman over 35 is considered infertile if she hasn’t conceived after 6 months of trying; for those under 30, doctors wait 12 months to make that call. In over 70% of couples that have fertility problems, the woman is over 40.
- Other potential risk factors include smoking, drinking too much alcohol, having a poor diet, exercising too much (apparently, yes, you can do that) and having a “social disease“
- The pill is not a risk factor for fertility: there’s no link between any hormonal contraceptive and infertility
- It general, it’s harder to get pregnant than most people think: about 5 months for a 20-year old, 6 months for a 30-year old and 7-12 months for a 40-year old. At the end of a month of trying (that is, attempting to fertilize one egg), the chances of pregnancy during that month will have been less than 30% for women under 30, and less than 10% for the 40 year old.
- In any given couple with fertility issues, the chances that the problem is the man, the woman, or both are split equally between the three.
- Besides in-vitro fertilization, there are two other main methods of dealing with infertility: hormonal injections and pills.
- The chance of getting pregnant via in-vitro fertilization is only 20-29%.
- The age of the egg used for in-vitro matters a lot: a 35-year old woman doing the procedure has the best chance by using a 20-year old’s egg
Things those surveyed knew:
- Menopause tends to happen between the ages of 50 and 54
- Fertility declines 10+ years before menopause
- Age, heredity, stress, and being over- or underweight are risk factors for fertility
- About 10-29% of all couples are infertile
- Women tend to want to have their first kid about 7 years after their mother had her first, and they tend to want 2 kids: one at 32 and another at 35.
- 75% of the women weren’t worried about trying to conceive
- 75% of the women were on the pill; 86% were using some kind of family planning
- 1% of babies born in the US were conceived in-vitro
NPR has a story on the subject which points out that a lot of women wait to have a baby after 35, only to find out that the odds are very much against them. Unfortunately, it’s a tough issue to educate people on, because it’s so touchy. An ad campaign back in 2001 with a baby bottle shaped like an hourglass drew a lot of criticism from women’s rights groups.
It’s worth mentioning that the survey was done by EMD Serono, which is the US arm of Merck KGaA, which is a German pharmaceutical. Given that the target of the survey was women around 30 who had no kids, they were probably just trying to figure out how to sell more pills to rich white women: either pills to prevent birth (did you know they don’t affect fertility?) or pills to promote birth (did you know we sell fertility hormones?). Drugs: the cause of, and solution to, all our problems.
Surprisingly, the German Merck KGaA is not connected in any way to the American pharmaceutical Merck & Co: during World War I, the American assets of the German Merck were seized by the US government and set up as a completely separate company. The two companies were also in the news earlier this week, because American Merck wanted German Merck’s Facebook page; Facebook initially agreed and transferred the page over, but after German Merck complained, it decided to go the Solomon route and give the page to neither of them.