French men are not as fertile as they used to be, according to a new study. And not only are they producing less semen, but the sperm is of a lower quality at that.
Researchers found that the sperm count in French men fell by nearly a third between 1989 and 2005, at a rate of about 1.9 percent a year. The study, published in the Oxford journal Human Reproduction, tested semen samples from more than 26,000 men from across the country.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study concluding a severe and general decrease in sperm concentration and morphology at the scale of a whole country over a substantial period,” wrote one of the report’s authors, epidemiologist Dr Joelle Le Moal.
Despite a general downturn in the number of children born in European countries over the past few years, France has somehow managed to resist the overarching trend. According to a 2010 report by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, the country’s fertility is at a historical high, with an average of 2.01 children per woman.
France is famous for its generous family incentives, such as ample maternity leave and tax credits for childcare, which basically encourage women to have more kids.
Yet in a country that prides itself on being one of the great baby-making nations of Europe, the study could have serious implications for the future of French fertility.
According to the research, the number of spermatozoa produced by the average 35 year-old French male has dropped from 73.6 million to 49.9 million per millilitre.
Although Dr Le Moal pointed out that the count fell within the norm for fertility used by the World Health Organisation, the study underlined the significance of its results, concluding that links with environment needed to be explored.
“This constitutes a serious public health warning,” Dr Le Moal said.