Saturday, May 22, 2004

Age-related fertility problems: Ignorance isn't bliss 

An article in The Straits Times today may shed light on why Singapore's fertility is falling.

According to the article written by M. Nirmala, many Singaporeans think that age is no barrier to a couple's ability to have children. A recent survey by the Ministry of Community Development and Sports found that "six in 10 believe that fertility can be turned on like a tap at any age thanks to medical technology," she wrote.

Couples with this belief and are delaying their first baby in favour of spending more time and effort on their careers as a result may be in for disillusionment. As Nirmala pointed out, a woman's natural fertility "declines gradually from her late 20s, more rapidly after the age of 35 and very sharply after 40". Women aged 25 to 29 have an 80 percent chance of getting pregnant, but women aged 40 to 44 have less than 40 percent chance. Men's sperm count and quality also fall with age, compounding the problem for older couples.

Nirmala believes that the misconception on fertility may have arisen from publicity of successes in treating fertility problems through science. "But paradoxically, the advances may have had an unintended consequences of lulling Singaporeans into a false sense of security," she wrote.

The misconception is apparently not limited to Singaporeans. The article highlighted a 2001 survey of the top 10 percent of high-earning American women, which found that of the women aged 28 to 40, almost 9 in 10 believed that they would be able to get pregnant into their 40s.

If the Singapore government is serious about reversing the country's declining birth rate, this misconception is a problem that it must tackle.


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