New Zealand couples who are unable to have kids are just as likely to be rich as poor, and could be any ethnicity - according to new findings from an Otago University study.

While the findings show infertility doesn't discriminate, they also highlight an imbalance in the likelihood of Maori and Pacific couples seeking help for infertility issues, when compared to other ethnicities.

The data, released to the Weekend Herald to kick off Fertility Week on Monday, showed 12.5 per cent of New Zealand woman had experienced infertility.

In Kiwis aged between 45 and 54 years, 4.2 per cent of men and 3.2 per cent of women wished or still wish to have children, but have not.

Vice-president of Fertility New Zealand Juanita Copeland said it showed there was "no marker" for infertility.


"It's not something you can throw money at, it's not something you can educate on… it's something that affects 1 in 4 New Zealanders and it can be anyone."

Copeland said before these results were published, she thought there was a "potential" the impact of infertility might have differed across various sections of society.

The group of Otago University researchers were analysing general health data as well as obvious fertility risks, such as sexual health, from the Ministry of Health's 2014/15 survey.

The research was aimed at establishing what factors could be associated with infertility and whether any particular demographics were affected more significantly.

The statistics related to women who had tried to conceive, and men who had ever had intercourse.

Researcher Antoinette Righarts was working on the ongoing study, titled The burden of infertility in New Zealand, paired with senior researcher Professor Wayne Gillett.

Righarts said previous studies she had been involved in suggested the prevalence of infertility issues in New Zealand might be greater than in other comparable countries.

Findings from the current study to date, showed this was likely the case - and this was largely due to a lack of knowledge around fertility windows and couples beginning to try for children too late.

"One of the most important factors driving the infertility rates in New Zealand, and similar countries, is this push-back to the 30s for having children," she said.


Though men surveyed for the research had a lower prevalence of infertility issues, Righarts said this was likely due to a skew in their reporting methodology.

"I presume it's mainly an interpretation thing, where if you took a couple, and you asked them the same question, one would say 'yes that happened' while the other would say 'no'."

"I guess the experience of infertility in general, is quite different for men than it is for women."

Though the results did not turn up any clear discrepancies in infertility across ethnic groups, it did find Maori and Pacific men and women were far less likely to seek medical help for infertility.

Almost 70 per cent of New Zealand woman and men would seek help if they ran into issues. In comparison, this statistic sat between 38 and 48 per cent for Maori and Pacific men and women.

Copeland said this discrepancy was likely at least partially due to stigmas in these groups around seeking help and subsequent treatment.

"There's a lot of misconceptions in some aspects of that community, around what seeking treatment entails."

"There's also a lot of shame and embarrassment around having to talk to a doctor around something really intimate like your private sex life, or for women, discussing your menstrual cycle."

Manu Fisi'ihoi, a young Tongan Hamilton resident who has just started IVF treatment with his wife Hannah, identified with this - he said: "Maori and Pasifika, especially males, we don't want to feel like we've lost in a sense, our manhood".

"I'd definitely say that a big factor in it would be upbringing of Maori and Pasifika kids.

"We hold a lot of things too sacred… I feel like anything to do with our health we're just too shy to ask."

Fisi'ihoi, who suffers male infertility, said he doesn't think his parents would have sought help, had they been in the same boat as he and Hannah were.

"My parents are more the real old-school Tongans who just say, oh, just keep praying and we'll leave it to the Lord."

The fertility facts

What you should know and how you can help yourself

• Up to one in four NZers experiences infertility during their lifetime.

• Infertility does not discriminate by education, socio-economic status or ethnicity

• Infertility is 30% male, 30% female, 30% both and 10% unexplained

• Smoking halves the chance of pregnancy, through both natural conception and IVF

• A healthy weight and good nutrition can improve chances of conception for men and women

• Alcohol, caffeine and environmental toxicity can all negatively impact men's and women's fertility

• Men who are trying to conceive should avoid testicular heat e.g. hot baths, cycling

• Women should learn their mother's age at menopause: if earlier than 50, seek advice earlier. If unknown, have an AMH test to assess ovarian reserve

• Identifying the fertile window is the most important knowledge you can have when trying to conceive – 85% of NZ women cannot identify the fertile window

• Men and women who contract a sexually transmitted infection, such as gonorrhoea or chlamydia, are more likely to experience infertility

• Fertility treatment has, on average, a 50% success rate

• IVF cannot 'fix' old eggs

• Plan for your last child, not your first!

• Egg freezing may become an option for those wishing to delay parenthood, but it is expensive.

• In women aged 35 or younger, one egg freezing cycle may give up to a 50% chance of a child from using frozen eggs later


Fertility New Zealand