Is human fecundity changing? A discussion of research and data gaps precluding us from having an answer

Hum Reprod. 2017 Mar 1;32(3):499-504. doi: 10.1093/humrep/dew361.


Fecundity, the biologic capacity to reproduce, is essential for the health of individuals and is, therefore, fundamental for understanding human health at the population level. Given the absence of a population (bio)marker, fecundity is assessed indirectly by various individual-based (e.g. semen quality, ovulation) or couple-based (e.g. time-to-pregnancy) endpoints. Population monitoring of fecundity is challenging, and often defaults to relying on rates of births (fertility) or adverse outcomes such as genitourinary malformations and reproductive site cancers. In light of reported declines in semen quality and fertility rates in some global regions among other changes, the question as to whether human fecundity is changing needs investigation. We review existing data and novel methodological approaches aimed at answering this question from a transdisciplinary perspective. The existing literature is insufficient for answering this question; we provide an overview of currently available resources and novel methods suitable for delineating temporal patterns in human fecundity in future research.

Keywords: epidemiology; fecundity; fertility; gynecologic diseases; time-to-pregnancy; urologic diseases.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Birth Rate*
  • Female
  • Fertility / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Time-to-Pregnancy*