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We investigated trends in biological fertility in a comprehensive analysis of 5 major European data sets with data on time to pregnancy (TTP) and proportion of contraceptive failures. In particular, we distinguished a period effect from a birth cohort effect (lifelong tendency) in both sexes. Attempts at conception not resulting in birth were excluded. We analyzed data on pregnancies occurring in 9,247 couples between 1953 and 1993 and performed sensitivity analyses to check the robustness of findings. Separate analyses of each time effect showed an increasing fertility trend. Mutually adjusted analyses demonstrated that this rise was visible as a male cohort effect for both TTP and contraceptive failure. On the other hand, the female birth cohort effect showed a slight fall in the first half of the study period for both TTP and contraceptive failure. As a period effect, fertility remained generally stable, the slight trends in TTP and contraceptive failure being in opposite directions, likely indicating an artifact. The rising trend accords with most previous evidence. The increasing trend in male fertility does not contradict the previously reported semen quality deterioration, the effects of which are calculated to be small. The declining female fertility accords with a falling dizygotic twinning rate during the same period.

Original publication




Journal article


Am J Epidemiol

Publication Date





722 - 730


fecundity, fertility, infertility, trends, Birth Rate, Europe, Female, Fertility, Fertilization, Humans, Infertility, Male, Pregnancy