Background: Most analyses of age-related changes in fertility cannot separate effects due to reduced frequency of sexual intercourse from effects directly related to ageing. Information on intercourse collected daily through each menstrual cycle provides the data for estimating day-specific probabilities of pregnancy for specific days relative to ovulation, and these estimates allow unconfounded analysis of ageing effects.
Methods: A total of 782 healthy couples using natural family planning methods contributed prospective data on 5860 menstrual cycles. Day of ovulation was based on basal body temperature measurements. Estimates of day-specific probabilities of pregnancy and the length of the fertile window were compared across age groups.
Results: Nearly all pregnancies occurred within a 6 day fertile window. There was no evidence for a shorter fertile window in older men or women. On average, the day-specific probabilities of pregnancy declined with age for women from the late 20s onward, with probabilities of pregnancy twice as high for women aged 19-26 years compared with women aged 35-39 years. Controlling for age of the woman, fertility was significantly reduced for men aged >35 years.
Conclusions: Women's fertility begins to decline in the late 20s with substantial decreases by the late 30s. Fertility for men is less affected by age, but shows significant decline by the late 30s.