Sterile Fantasies

Often under the influence of professors, a growing number of university students around the world decide to delay parenthood and family life. Do the students who make such decisions realize the biological challenges they may face as a consequence of such delays? A new Danish study reveals that many university students remain woefully ignorant of the biological and medical realities that make it unlikely that they will ever actually realize the family life they believe they are only delaying.  Affiliated with Denmark’s Copenhagen University, Metropolitan University, and Zealand University, the authors of the new study probe young Danes’ understanding of reproductive biology in large part because of their concern about the number of young people in Western countries, including their own, who are delaying parenthood. In recent decades, the researchers note, “many countries have seen a marked increase in parental age.” In Denmark, they report, since 1986 the average age of first-time fathers has risen by three years, to 31.3, while the average age for first-time mothers has climbed by four years, to 29.1.  Parallel developments are manifest in other Nordic countries, with Finland, Norway, and Sweden all reporting “similar patterns . . . regarding postponement of family formation.” The researchers point out that although “postponement of family formation was seen across all educational groups, . . . the postponement was more pronounced among highly educated women.”   Nor are higher ages for first-time parents peculiar to Nordic countries: the authors of the new study see “similar trends . . . in other countries,” with the age of first-time mothers now standing at 30.6 years in Italy and 30.4 years in Spain. And although the average age of first-time mothers is notably lower in America (26.0 years in 2013), the researchers stress that “in the USA the proportion of mothers 35 years or older has steadily increased over the last
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