Parenthood is a life goal for most people. Research has found that men want to be fathers just as much as women want to be mothers. However on many levels in society, fertility is considered to be women’s business and men’s role in childbearing is hardly ever discussed. Until now experts and researchers have been just as responsible in excluding men from the fertility dialogue as everybody else.
A recent Australian study (Holton et al) of men’s fertility attitudes and knowledge, and childbearing desires and outcomes recommends targeted fertility health promotion efforts to increase men’s fertility knowledge so they (and their partners) can achieve their reproductive goals.
What did the study find?
Men overestimate fertility
Most men overestimated the female reproductive lifespan by quite a lot. More than two thirds thought that women’s fertility starts to decline after age 35 (actually the decline begins more than 5 years earlier). Most men thought that male fertility declines after age 45 or older (it can occur before age 45). This false belief held by many men may influence an overly relaxed attitude about the best time to start a family.
Men are overconfident in the ability of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as IVF in overcoming the effects of age on fertility
Almost 60 per cent of men believed that ART can overcome age related infertility, but the reality is that fewer than six per cent of women between 40 and 44 years who start an IVF cycle will have a baby. There was a clear misunderstanding by men that for age-related infertility, IVF is no replacement for having a baby at a younger age.
It’s OK to be a dad at 50?
More than 60 per cent of men thought it was acceptable for a man older than 50 years to father a child. However, with women’s fertility declining in her thirties, choices to delay starting a family can impact on a couple’s conceiving, even when there is an age gap between the man and woman.
Men want children too
Only five per cent of men said their ideal number of children was zero and another five per cent said they wanted one child only. The remaining number (90%) wanted two or more children.
Interestingly, men thought they would probably have fewer children than they ideally wanted. Compared to the 10 per cent who wanted to have one or no children, 20 per cent expected that they would have no children or only one child, despite wanting more. Of the 90 per cent who wanted two or more children, only 70 per cent expected to achieve this.
These result suggest some level of understanding that circumstances, including age, can affect the opportunity to fulfill parenthood goals.
A little more than half of the men in the study had tried to achieve a pregnancy with a partner, and 41 per cent were already fathers.
The most important findings from the study:
- Almost all Australian men want to have at least two children
- Most men underestimate the impact of age on male and female fertility
- Most men overestimate the ability of ART to overcome the effects of age on fertility
- Most men think that it is acceptable for men to become fathers in the sixth decade of life.
It is easy to see how challenging some of these beliefs with health promotion education strategies that appeal to men is an important factor to help men realise their childbearing desires.