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California Environmental Health Tracking Program

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Last Edited: 9/30/2010

Population Fertility

The rate of childbirth in populations is determined by a host of factors, most prominently behavioral and social customs surrounding family formation.  Infertility among individuals is typically unnoticed until the stage of life at which people wish to bear children; at this time it can be a source of personal hardship and anguish.  Scientists have recently become concerned that aspects of our environment may be playing a role in reducing fertility at the population level, although methods to assess this phenomenon are still being explored.

 

What is population fertility?

An individual’s fertility is defined as their physiological capacity to conceive and/or bear children.  The assessment of fertility among large groups of people, however, is less straightforward.  Generally the rate of childbirth is used, although it is acknowledged that this may have as much or more to do with the desire to have children—as determined by social custom, economic circumstance, and relationships with others—as it does with one’s physiology.  Childbearing rates change by time and location due to traditions, gender roles, standards of living, and access to both fertility and contraceptive services. 

In recent years, however, some researchers have become concerned about the effects of environmental pollution on human reproduction.  Measures of childbearing rates are one way—however imperfect—of monitoring for this possibility.