Infertility - Childbirth and Infertility Rates

Here's a look at infertility statistics, the causes of infertility and infertility treatments throughout the world with an emphasis on reproductive problems in developed countries.

Infertility Definition

Infertility is defined as the biological inability of a person to contribute to conception. Couples are considered potentially infertile if they have not conceived within 12 months of sexual intercourse with no birth control and the female is under 34 years old. If the woman is over the age of 35, infertility is diagnosed if the couple has not conceived within six months of contraceptive-free intercourse. The reason why the timeline is shortened as a woman gets older is because as women age the egg quality declines and medical intervention needs to take place sooner in order to take advantage of any viable eggs.

Subfertility is a term used to describe any couple that has tried unsuccessfully to have a child for a year or more. This doesn't mean that the couple won't be able to have a child; it simply means that they're less fertile than the typical couple. Causes of subfertility are similar to the causes of infertility.

There's also a condition called secondary infertility. Primary infertility is when a couple has never been able to conceive. But even couples who have already conceived can experience infertility even if the woman has carried a baby to term, completed Lamaze and/or had a good childbirth experience. This is called secondary infertility and refers to a couple's difficulty in conceiving another baby after a full-term pregnancy or even a miscarriage. If there is a change in partners, second infertility is not considered present.

Infertility Statistics

There isn't a great deal of data regarding historical global infertility rates. Defining infertility and keeping track of it is a relatively new invention. In the last ten years or so it's been estimated that one in seven global couples have problems conceiving regardless of the country's development level. In the United States it's estimated that more than six million people are affected by infertility. In the UK, it's estimated that one in seven couples have difficulty conceiving. In Sweden approximately 10 percent of couples are infertile according to medical records.

Determining Infertility Causes

Sometimes the cause of infertility can be diagnosed, but sometimes it can't be even with advances in modern medicine and medical practices. In historical times any infertility was seen as the woman's problem. Nowadays we know that there's such a thing as male infertility as well and male infertility is the cause of difficulty in conception 25 percent to 35 percent of the time.

Conceiving a child is a complicated process where a healthy sperm needs to fertilize a healthy egg. While this initially sounds like a simple process, there are many factors that easily prevent the creation of a new human being. These include poor quality sperm or eggs, blocked fallopian tubes that don't allow the sperm to reach the egg, and the ability of the fertilized egg to effectively plant in the uterus.

If infertility is suspected, often the male partner is tested first since these tests can be less invasive. Then testing begins on the woman. A physical examination is conducted and general health is analyzed as well as any physical disorders that might cause infertility. Both partners will be interviewed about the sexual habits to make sure they're doing everything correctly for maximum chance of conception. Specific testing may then be recommended if no other cause is determined. For men testing begins with semen analysis. With women it includes an analysis of body temperature, x-ray of the fallopian tubes and uterus, a laparoscopy and analysis of ovulation.


Infertility drugs may be prescribed for either (or both) the man or woman. Surgical repair of reproductive organs might be necessary. These are considered conventional therapies and help fix 85 percent to 90 percent of infertility cases. Sometimes assisted reproductive technologies are used to treat infertility and other times infertility treatments are simply unsuccessful for reasons not entirely medically known.


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