Most students underestimate how much age affects the chance of having a baby, according to new research published today.
The study, involving 1215 University of Melbourne students, found less than half correctly identified 35-39 years as the age at which female fertility declines significantly and less than one in five correctly identified 45-49 years as the age when male fertility declines.
Having children was equally important to the male and female students surveyed. Many wanted to complete their families before a significant decline in fertility occurred while also expecting to achieve many other life goals before becoming parents.
Women were more likely than men to rate completing their studies, advancing in their profession, having work that can be combined with parenthood and having access to childcare as important before starting a family.
The paper’s lead author, Dr Eugenie Prior, said: "Our study shows that university students overwhelming want to be parents one day. However, most also have unrealistic expectations of what they want to achieve before having children, whether that be in their career or financially. We need to educate young people about the limits of fertility and support them to become parents at a point that is ideal biologically, while balanced against the life goals they want to achieve."
Dr Raelia Lew, co-author and reproductive endocrinologist, fertility specialist at the Royal Women’s Hospital and Clinical Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne, said the study reflected the attitudes and knowledge of many patients she and her fellow clinicians saw 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.
Louise Johnson, co-author and chief executive of the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA), said enhanced community-wide education was crucial in raising awareness among young Australians in order for them to make informed choices.
"We need to educate young people about the limits of fertility and support them to become parents at a point that is ideal biologically, while balanced against the life goals they want to achieve," Ms Johnson said.
VARTA and Family Planning Victoria have produced a fertility and assisted reproductive treatment teaching resource for schools to raise awareness of the factors affecting fertility.