Public Perception of Female Fertility: Initial Fertility, Peak Fertility, and Age-Related Infertility Among U.S. Adults

Arch Sex Behav. 2018 Jul;47(5):1507-1516. doi: 10.1007/s10508-018-1197-4. Epub 2018 Mar 26.


Perceptions of fertility are thought to impact reproductive behaviors, yet little is known about how lay people conceptualize the female fertility timeline. In this research, public perception of the female fertility timeline was assessed via a national survey of U.S. adults (N = 990) ranging in age from 18 to 89 years. Although there is no scientific consensus on the makeup of the female fertility timeline, results from this research indicate that the U.S. public posits fertility onset at (approximately) 13 years, peak fertility at 22, ideal first pregnancy age at 23, too late for pregnancy at 46, and infertility at 49. Regression analysis revealed that perceived peak fertility and ideal pregnancy age were positively correlated such that participants perceived the ideal pregnancy age as directly following peak fertility. Education was significantly related to fertility perceptions; those with more education perceived initial fertility to be lower and peak fertility and ideal pregnancy age to be higher. In other words, more highly educated individuals perceived fertility to manifest over a longer period of time as compared to individuals with less education. Black and Hispanic participants and participants with lower income perceived ideal first pregnancy age as significantly lower than did White participants and participants with higher income. These differences may suggest that the seeds of health disparities associated with phenomena such as adolescent pregnancy are lurking in fertility timeline perceptions.

Keywords: Illness representation; Pregnancy; Reproductive health; Science perceptions; Self-regulation theory.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy* / physiology
  • Pregnancy* / psychology
  • Pregnancy* / statistics & numerical data
  • Public Opinion*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult