, Volume 54, Issue 3, pp 911–931 | Cite as

Resolved Parental Infertility and Children’s Educational Achievement



Although difficulty conceiving a child has long been a major medical and social preoccupation, it has not been considered as a predictor of long-term outcomes in children ultimately conceived. This is consistent with a broader gap in knowledge regarding the consequences of parental health for educational performance in offspring. Here we address that omission, asking how resolved parental infertility relates to children’s academic achievement. In a sample of all Swedish births between 1988 and 1995, we find that involuntary childlessness prior to either a first or a second birth is associated with lower academic achievement (both test scores and GPA) in children at age 16, even if the period of infertility was prior to a sibling’s birth rather than the child’s own. Our results support a conceptualization of infertility as a cumulative physical and social experience with effects extending well beyond the point at which a child is born, and emphasize the need to better understand how specific parental health conditions constrain children’s educational outcomes.


Education Achievement Infertility Parental health GPA 



The authors acknowledge funding from the Centre for Economic Demography and from the Cornell Population Center, and additionally thank participants at the seminars in the Centre for Economic Demography and the Cornell Population Center, who provided invaluable feedback on this manuscript.

Supplementary material

13524_2017_573_MOESM1_ESM.docx (152 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 151 kb)


  1. Bernhardt, E., & Goldscheider, F. (2014). Ambivalence about children in the family building process in Sweden. Finnish Yearbook of Population Research, 49, 57–71.Google Scholar
  2. Biringer, E., Howard, L. M., Kessler, U., Stewart, R., & Mykletun, A. (2015). Is infertility really associated with higher levels of mental distress in the female population? Results from the North-Trøndelag Health Study and the Medical Birth Registry of Norway. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology, 36, 38–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bratti, M., & Mendola, M. (2013). Parental health and child schooling (GINI Discussion Paper No. 63). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies.Google Scholar
  4. Canadian Paediatric Society. (2004). Maternal depression and child development. Paediatrics & Child Health, 9, 575–583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cohen, J., Trounson, A., Dawson, K., Jones, H., Hazekamp, J., Nygren, K.-G., & Hamberger, L. (2005). The early days of IVF outside the UK. Human Reproduction Update, 11, 439–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cousineau, T. M., & Domar, A. D. (2007). Psychological impact of infertility. Best Practice & Research: Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 21, 293–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Crosnoe, R., & Muller, C. (2004). Body mass index, academic achievement, and school context: Examining the educational experiences of adolescents at risk of obesity. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 45, 393–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cummings, E. M., & Davies, P. T. (1994). Maternal depression and child development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35, 73–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Downey, G., & Coyne, J. C. (1990). Children of depressed parents: An integrative review. Psychological Bulletin, 108, 50–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Eisenberg, M. L., Li, S., Behr, B., Reijo Pera, R., & Cullen, M. R. (2015). Relationship between semen production and medical comorbidity. Fertility and Sterility, 103, 66–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Espeland, W. N., & Stevens, M. L. (2008). A sociology of quantification. European Journal of Sociology, 49, 401–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. (2011). Sexually transmitted infections in Europe, 1990–2009 (Surveillance report). Stockholm, Sweden: ECDC.Google Scholar
  13. Falbo, T., & Polit, D. F. (1986). Quantitative review of the only child literature: Research evidence and theory development. Psychological Bulletin, 100, 176–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gibson, F. L., McMahon, C. A., Cohen, J., Leslie, G. I., & Saunders, D. M. (2002). Children conceived through ICSI and IVF at 5 years of age: Behavioral adjustment, parenting stress and attitudes: A comparative study. Fertility and Sterility, 78(Suppl. 1), S28–S29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Greil, A. L., McQuillan, J., & Slauson-Blevins, K. (2011). The social construction of infertility. Sociology Compass, 5, 736–746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Greil, A. L., Slauson-Blevins, K., & McQuillan, J. (2010). The experience of infertility: A review of recent literature. Sociology of Health & Illness, 32, 140–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hammarberg, K., Fisher, J. R. W., & Wynter, K. H. (2008). Psychological and social aspects of pregnancy, childbirth and early parenting after assisted conception: A systematic review. Human Reproduction Update, 14, 395–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Haveman, R., & Wolfe, B. (1995). The determinants of children’s attainments: A review of methods and findings. Journal of Economic Literature, 33, 1829–1878.Google Scholar
  19. Irvine, D. S. (1998). Epidemiology and aetiology of male infertility. Human Reproduction, 13(Suppl. 1), 33–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kaestner, R., & Grossman, M. (2009). Effects of weight on children’s educational achievement. Economics of Education Review, 28, 651–661.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kaestner, R., Grossman, M., & Yarnoff, B. (2011). Effects of weight on adolescent educational attainment. In M. Grossman & N. H. Mocan (Eds.), Economic aspects of obesity (pp. 283–313). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  22. Katz, P., Showstack, J., Smith, J. F., Nachtigall, R. D., Millstein, S. G., Wing, H., . . . Adler, N. (2011). Costs of infertility treatment: Results from an 18-month prospective cohort study. Fertility and Sterility, 95, 915–921.Google Scholar
  23. Kelly, S. (2008). What types of students’ effort are rewarded with high marks? Sociology of Education, 81, 32–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lane, M., Robker, R. L., & Robertson, S. A. (2014). Parenting from before conception. Science, 345, 756. doi: 10.1126/science.1254400 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Levy-Shiff, R., Vakil, E., Dimitrovsky, L., Abramovitz, M., Shahar, N., Har-Even, D., . . . Fish, B. (1998). Medical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral outcomes in school-age children conceived by in-vitro fertilization. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 27, 320–329.Google Scholar
  26. Lindahl, M., Palme, M., Sandgren Massih, S., & Sjögren, A. (2015). Long-term intergenerational persistence of human capital: An empirical analysis of four generations. Journal of Human Resources, 50, 1–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mascarenhas, M. N., Flaxman, S. R., Boerma, T., Vanderpoel, S., Mathers, C. D., & Stevens, G. A. (2013). Trends in primary and secondary infertility prevalence since 1990: A systematic analysis of demographic and reproductive health surveys. Lancet, 381(Special Issue), S90. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61344-6 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. McMahon, C., & Gibson, F. (2002). A special path to parenthood: Parent-child relationships in families giving birth to singleton infants through IVF. Reproductive Biomedicine Online, 5, 179–186. doi: 10.1016/S1472-6483(10)61622-7 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mikail, S. F., & von Baeyer, C. L. (1990). Pain, somatic focus, and emotional adjustment in children of chronic headache sufferers and controls. Social Science & Medicine, 31, 51–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Milesi, C., Palloni, A., & Bittman, R. (2013, April). The effects of timing and duration of adolescent and early adulthood obesity on college enrollment and completion. Paper presented at the annual meetings of the Population Association of America, New Orleans, LA.Google Scholar
  31. Möller, A., & Fällström, K. (1991). Psychological consequences of infertility: A longitudinal study. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology, 12, 27–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Morice, P., Josset, P., Chapron, C., & Dubuisson, J. B. (1995). History of infertility. Human Reproduction Update, 1, 497–504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Muthler, S. (2013, July 24). Secondary infertility: I have one child. Why can’t I get pregnant again? The New York Times. Retrieved from
  34. Olshansky, E., & Sereika, S. (2005). The transition from pregnancy to postpartum in previously infertile women: A focus on depression. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 19, 273–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rickard, K. (1988). The occurrence of maladaptive health-related behaviors and teacher-rated conduct problems in children of chronic low back pain patients. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 11, 107–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Scritchfield, S. (2009). The social construction of infertility: From private matter to social concern. In J. Best (Ed.), Images of issues: Typifying contemporary social problems (pp. 131–146). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar
  37. Sullivan, W. (1981, December 29). First “test-tube” baby born in U.S., Joining successes around world. The New York Times, pp. 1A.Google Scholar
  38. Timmermans, S., & Haas, S. (2008). Towards a sociology of disease. Sociology of Health & Illness, 30, 659–676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. World Health Organization (WHO). (1991). Infertility: A tabulation of available data on prevalence of primary and secondary infertility [Database]. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.Google Scholar
  40. Yeung, W. J., Linver, M. R., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2002). How money matters for young children’s development: Parental investment and family processes. Child Development, 73, 1861–1879.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Centre for Economic Demography and Department of Economic HistoryLund UniversityLundSweden

Personalised recommendations