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Hum Reprod Update. 2012 Jan-Feb;18(1):29-43. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmr040. Epub 2011 Oct 11.

Demographic and medical consequences of the postponement of parenthood.

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  • 1Section of Social Medicine, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.


BACKGROUND Across the developed world couples are postponing parenthood. This review assesses the consequences of delayed family formation from a demographic and medical perspective. One main focus is on the quantitative importance of pregnancy postponement. METHODS Medical and social science databases were searched for publications on relevant subjects such as delayed parenthood, female and male age, fertility, infertility, time to pregnancy (TTP), fetal death, outcome of medically assisted reproduction (MAR) and mental well-being. RESULTS Postponement of parenthood is linked to a higher rate of involuntary childlessness and smaller families than desired due to increased infertility and fetal death with higher female and male age. For women, the increased risk of prolonged TTP, infertility, spontaneous abortions, ectopic pregnancies and trisomy 21 starts at around 30 years of age with a more pronounced effects >35 years, whereas the increasing risk of preterm births and stillbirths starts at around 35 years with a more pronounced effect >40 years. Advanced male age has an important but less pronounced effect on infertility and adverse outcomes. MAR treatment cannot overcome the age-related decline in fecundity. CONCLUSIONS In general, women have partners who are several years older than themselves and it is important to focus more on the combined effect of higher female and male age on infertility and reproductive outcome. Increasing public awareness of the impact of advanced female and male age on the reproductive outcome is essential for people to make well-informed decisions on when to start family formation.

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