Vera Villanueva

While attitudes toward family planning vary among parents, a new Yale study indicates that another factor may play a role in shaping these views: career focus.

The study, which analyzed survey data from over 4,700 middle-aged women in the United States, found that women who place high importance on career success are more likely to prioritize pregnancy planning than women who are indifferent about their career success. Furthermore, the study found, career-focused women expressed greater optimism about and fewer ethical concerns over artificial reproductive technologies.

“Understanding the attitudes that career-focused women have about fertility issues really just has become essential for anyone in our field,” said Stephen Collins, the gynecologist at Yale New Haven Hospital who co-authored the study.

Study participants were asked to rate the importance of success in their line of work and indicate their agreement with statements about the importance of pregnancy planning and the ethical propriety of various artificial reproductive technologies.

The researchers found several correlations in these responses. For example, women who stated that career success was “very important” to them were nearly three times more likely to “strongly agree” with the importance of pregnancy planning, when compared with women for whom career success was “somewhat important” or “not important.”

“The magnitude of the confidence in the success of artificial reproductive technologies was really the surprising thing,” said Collins, pointing to the result that 90 percent of women felt confidence conceiving even in their late 30s because of medical technology. He described as critical the disconnect between this confidence and the limitations of artificial reproductive technologies.

Haley Neidich, a licensed social worker and psychotherapist in New Haven, noted that women see these technologies as an opportunity to pursue their goals. “Women are seeing this through rose-colored glasses because they’re taking this as an opportunity to pursue their goals.” she said. “That’s … empowering to them so they’re able to perceive this literature in a specific way.”

In the study, the researchers recommended that pregnancy counseling adapt to the attitudes revealed in the study. For example, they proposed that counselors better educate career-focused women on the limitations associated with the use of late-childbearing fertility treatments to achieve their reproductive goals.

One place where the dialogue on pregnancy planning has improved, Collins said, is the practice of egg freezing.

“In some particularly major cities, they’ll have things like an egg-freezing party … where a fertility group will have essentially like a cocktail hour to introduce the idea of freezing your eggs for future use,” Collins said.

He maintained, however, that there is still much progress to be made in encouraging this style of pregnancy planning, as it promotes conversation about the finite nature of fertility.

But counseling reform is not the only aspect of pregnancy planning to consider, said Maria Trumpler, the director of Yale’s Office of LGBTQ Resources and a professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

“What I’m really interested in is access,” Trumpler said. “Do all women have access to the reproductive technology that they need?”

Trumpler added that a reason why career-focused women maintain the attitudes revealed in the study is simply because they are more likely to have the resources to consider family planning.

Asked if she would suggest any changes for the medical and counseling community, Neidich recommended offering education and resources to inform women rather than pressuring them to talk about fertility by talking about age.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average age of first motherhood in the U.S. has increased from 22 to 28 years old over the past half century.

Zhengdong Wang | zhengdong.wang@yale.edu