Parental age has increased over the last few decades among men and women in high-income countries, including Denmark and Sweden.1,2 Postponing family formation to the mid-30s and beyond increases the risk of age-related infertility and having fewer children than wanted.1 Previous qualitative studies have shown that men expect to have children and take their fertility for granted.3 Little is known about the views of young men on the optimal timing of family formation or the factors that influence their opinions. Therefore, the aim of this study was to explore the thoughts of young men regarding parenthood and the factors influencing their views about the timing of family formation.
In this qualitative study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 12 men from Sweden and 17 men from Denmark. Both of these countries are classified as high-income countries with similar social policies enabling people to combine paid work and parenthood. Inclusion criteria for this study were: male sex, childless, aged 20–30 years, and in the last year of education. The interviews were conducted between February and September 2017 and lasted between 30 and 90 minutes. The interviews were recorded and then transcribed and analysed through thematic content analysis.4
The results of this study showed that the young men valued parenthood and wanted children in the future. Factors that were identified as barriers for having children during the most fertile years were respondents associating parenthood with loss of freedom, wanting to have a secure and stable life before having children, and wanting to reflect the family formation patterns of friends and family. All respondents wanted to be in a stable relationship with the ‘right’ woman before contemplating fatherhood. In addition, they described a ‘true order of life events’ in which they expected to pursue several other life goals before having children; e.g., completing education, having financial security, and establishing a career. Most respondents did not believe that interventions to promote family formation in early adulthood would affect their preferred timing of parenthood. They had already planned what they wanted to achieve in their life, with or without children, many years ago; however, better parental leave policies and learning about risk factors for infertility in primary or secondary school were mentioned as factors that could encourage earlier family formation.
The findings suggest that young men in Scandinavia expect to achieve other life goals before being ready to have children, potentially putting them and their partners at risk of age-related infertility. The inclusion of information about the limitations of fertility in school sexual and reproductive health education may improve men’s understanding of the risks of age-related infertility and promote earlier family formation.