Bureau of Sociological Research (BOSR)


Date of this Version

February 2006


Published in Social Science & Medicine 62:4 (February 2006), pp. 1031–1041; doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.11.012 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/02779536 Copyright © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. Used by permission.


This paper uses data from a study of 196 infertile women from the Midwestern US to examine a general theory of help-seeking behavior applied to infertility. All of these women report meeting the medical definition of infertility—12 months or more of regular intercourse without conception—at some point in their lives. Only 35 percent of this sample of infertile women identified themselves as having had fertility problems and only 40 percent had sought medical treatment.

Drawing on prior theories of help-seeking, we examine the effects of symptom salience, life course cues, attitudes, predisposing factors, and enabling conditions on help-seeking. We posit a model in which a cognitive dimension (perceived infertility) mediates between these predictors and medical help-seeking. Symptom salience (experienced infertility while actively trying to get pregnant), low parity, and poor subjective health are significantly related to perceived infertility, which is, in turn, significantly associated with help-seeking for infertility. Supporting the conclusion that the cognitive dimension of identifying oneself as infertile is critical to help-seeking, the relationship of symptom salience to help-seeking is partially mediated by perceived problems. Internal health locus of control is associated with lower odds of help-seeking but not to perceived infertility.

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