Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Advances in Life Course Research (2020), 13pp.

DOI 10.1016/j.alcr.2020.100339


Copyright © 2020 by the authors; published by Elsevier Ltd. Used by permission.


Continued postponement of births and increasing use of reproductive medicine enhance the relevance of infertility and related perceptions for fertility research. Fertility researchers tend to assume that an existing perception of inability to procreate is a stable trait among persons of reproductive age. This assumption is questionable from a life course perspective and has not been thoroughly investigated. Therefore we investigate the prevalence, stability, and correlates of perceived inability to procreate. We apply between-within logit models to annual panel data (2008-2015) to study variation in perceived inability to procreate within individuals over time and between individuals. We find that approximately every 20th person of reproductive age is affected. There is considerable instability among those who ever perceive an inability to procreate: On average, 39 % of women and 48 % of men who perceive an inability in one year change to not perceiving an inability in the next year. Multivariate analysis shows that increases in age and perception of one’s partner as unable to procreate are associated with higher odds of perceiving an inability to procreate. Not using contraception is associated with higher odds of perceiving an inability to procreate. Perceived procreative ability further differs by parity, level of education, immigration background, and religious denomination. In summary, perception of inability to procreate is a temporal phenomenon that is shaped by lifecourse contexts and social group differences.

Highlights • Perception of inability to procreate is not a permanent condition for most. • 44 % change from perceiving inability to perceiving ability to procreate on average. • Lifecourse-, health-, and socio-structural factors shape infertility perceptions. • Demographic surveys should routinely include measures of infertility perceptions.