- Public thoughts and perceptions about a woman's peak fertility age and ideal age to have the first baby may impact the changing fertility rates seen in the US
- Birth rates have declined in the US; latest estimates suggest that there was a natural population increase of one million in 2017, compared to 1.8 million in 2008
- Although there was general agreement on the age at which fertility began and ended, there were differences in opinion as to the ideal age to have her first child
Declining birth rates in the US may be influenced by public perceptions of a woman's fertility timelines such as best age for the first baby and peak fertility age, according to a recent study led by Robin E. Jensen, professor of communication at the University of Utah. The findings of the study appear in the journal, Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Can Public Perceptions about a Woman's Fertility Affect Fertility Rates?
Most studies look at the role of modernity, late age at childbearing and working status and economic independence as key factors that may be responsible for falling fertility rates in the US. The current study, however, looks at the issue from a totally new perspective i.e. the role of public perception about a woman's fertility.
"I think the first question is how the public conceptualizes fertility,"
said Jensen. "For example, when do people think women are most fertile and what do they view as the ideal time to get pregnant? Once you understand those perceptions, then it might be possible to contextualize shifts in fertility rates over time"
Studying Role of Public Perceptions and Changing Fertility Rates
The study was conducted to try and find an explanation for declining fertility rates in the US and determine if it could be influenced by what the general public's ideas on human fertility
and how this, in turn, would drive fertility-related behaviors in the community.
‘Birth rates have declined in the US. Public thoughts and perceptions about a womanís peak fertility age and ideal age to have the first baby may impact the changing fertility rates seen in the US.’
The study enrolled 990 adults living in the US from a survey company who were between 18 and 89 years.
The participants were asked the following five questions:
- At what age does a woman start to be fertile?
- At what age does a woman achieve peak fertility or in other words is most fertile?
- At what age does a woman stop being fertile?
- In general, what is the best age for a woman to have her first baby?
- In general, which age is considered too late to have a baby?
The answers by the participants to the questions were as follows:
- Initial fertility was thought to be around 13 years, reaching a maximum around 22 years and tending to become infertile by about 50 years.
- The ideal age to have the first baby age was perceived to be about 23 years (ranged between 19 to 27 years), which means it immediately follows the age of peak fertility
In fact public views on a woman's fertility do reflect what the norm is; approximately 60 percent of women in the US have their first baby before 25 years.
- Participants perceived that 46†years was a rather late age to become pregnant or have a baby.
The findings of the study suggest that there was agreement
among the general population about
the fertility timelines of a woman namely her initial age of fertility, ending of her fertile period as well as peak fertility age
. However, there were differences in perceptions about the ideal age for a woman to have her first baby
What were the Differences in Public Perceptions on Fertility among Various Groups?
- Peak fertility age was perceived to be higher in participants who identified themselves as White and also groups with higher income levels
- Peak fertility age in women was perceived to be lower in groups who had lower income levels and among participants who identified as Black or Hispanic
Future Research Plans - Peak Fertility Vs Ideal Age of First Baby
While it is normal for a close connection to exist between a woman's age of peak fertility and age of first pregnancy
, the team want to conduct further studies to find out why the ideal age at first pregnancy should follow perceived age of peak fertility
; they believe that planning the first baby before the age of peak fertility will ensure that the chances of having the first baby on time are brighter.
"Why does the public situate peak fertility before ideal first pregnancy when getting a running start at peak fertility would seem to provide the best shot at meeting those ideal first pregnancy targets?"
This is a question that Jensen, Martins and Parks hope to explore in the future.
Potential Study Limitations
- Information on fertility perceptions was only collected at a single point in time; these could very well change over a period of time
- Data were collected using five open-ended questions; the veracity of this approach needs further validation
- The data reflected the views of adults in the US and may not reflect the views of the public in other parts of the world
In conclusion, the survey throws up an alternate perspective on factors that could influence birth rates in a population although more research may be required in other parts of the world as well to validate these findings. References :
- Public Perception of Female Fertility: Initial Fertility, Peak Fertility, and Age-Related Infertility Among U.S. Adults - (https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-018-1197-4)