23 May 2016


Convenors: Professor Sarah Franklin (Sociology) and Dr Nitzan Peri-Rotem (Sociology)

The Changing Fertility Forum, an event jointly organized by the Philomathia Programme and the Reproductive Sociology Research Group (ReproSoc) was held this spring at the University of Cambridge. The forum has set the scene for an exploration of recent changes in fertility patterns in industrialized societies and the way these are related to the widening use of assisted reproductive technologies (ART). This international event has brought together health professionals, members of non-governmental organizations and academics from various disciplines, including history, sociology, anthropology, demography, public health, law and philosophy. This yielded a truly unique conversation between different parties that seldom have the opportunity to exchange ideas, a conversation that enabled us to put together some of the pieces of the changing fertility puzzle.

The two presentations in the first session provided some insights about the different aspects of ART use, from the initial causes of infertility to demographic outcomes of assisted reproduction. Lone Schmidt, an Associate Professor at the University of Copenhagen, discussed this issue from a public health perspective, addressing questions such as how infertility is defined? How widespread is it among women, men and couples? And what are the causes and risk factors of infertility? Schmidt noted that although infertility is considered a disease by the World Health Organization, there are no national preventative strategies to deal with it. Moreover, even the best assisted reproduction technologies are not sufficient to overcome reduced fertility as a result of advanced female age.

Tomas Sobotka, a Senior Researcher from the Vienna Institute of Demography, has described the different social and economic reasons for fertility postponement in developed countries, including prolonged education, increased economic insecurity and less stable relationships. Thus, while it is biologically optimal for women to start a family when they are in their early or mid-20s, this does not always match their social circumstances. These presentations raised many questions regarding, among other things, the slippery concept of infertility, the extent to which the timing of childbirth is a matter of choice and the appropriate policy response to these issues. One of the main propositions stressed in the forum was that infertility should be addressed from a more structural and holistic viewpoint, taking into account the process in which reproductive decisions are made and the factors that affect these decisions. Therefore, delayed childbearing should be understood not only as a private matter, but as a socially and economically dependent choice.

For more details, see: http://www.reprosoc.sociology.cam.ac.uk/blog-and-podcasts/blog/changing-fertility

Social Science Research for the 21st Century - Progress through Partnership

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