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Increasing trends in childlessness in recent birth cohorts – a registry-based study of the total Danish male population born from 1945 to 1980


Niels E. Skakkebaek, University Department of Growth and Reproduction, Rigshospitalet, Blegdamsvej 9, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark. E-mail:


The fertility rate has recently declined in many parts of the World, including Europe. To a large extent, this change can be explained by the socio-economic development. However, increasing fertility problems and widespread occurrence of poor semen quality could in part explain the few births. The objective of this registry based study was to investigate birth cohort related trends in fertility and childlessness among Danish men. The study population comprised all 1 616 677 men in Denmark born from 1945 to 1980 of whom 1 359 975 (84.1%) were native Danes. Data were obtained from Statistics Denmark and contained information from The National Danish Birth Registry and The Danish In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) Registry. For consecutive birth cohorts of native Danish men cumulative fertility rates at age 45 declined from 1.91 children per man in the 1945 birth cohort to 1.71 for men born in 1960. The proportion of childless men at age 45 increased from 14.8% to 21.9% in the same birth cohorts. Assisted reproductive technology (ART) seemed to compensate partly for the lower fertility and to reduce the proportion of childless men. In contrast, recent reports on corresponding birth cohorts of Danish women showed that the proportion remaining childless throughout life has been lower than in men and has not shown a similar increase. In conclusion, using unique Danish registries the study showed a birth cohort related decline in fertility rates and an increase in childlessness among men. In the more recent cohorts more than one in five men remained childless. The causes behind the findings are likely multi-factorial. Hitherto, most attention has been given to socio-economic factors which undoubtedly play a major role. Our findings lend support to the hypothesis that the high prevalence of low sperm counts among young Danish men may be a contributing factor.