The average man’s sperm count has plummeted at an alarming rate in recent decades, according to a new study.
Conservative critics have warned about men’s declining social and economic status, but masculinity may be facing a biological crisis, too.
A meta-analysis of 223 studies published last month in the scientific journal Human Reproduction Update found male sperm counts and concentrations worldwide have plummeted since 1973, 62% and 52% respectively as of 2019.
Should the declines continue apace, the global average would fall below 15 million sperm per milliliter of ejaculate by the middle of the century — a critical benchmark below which men are considered at risk of infertility without the assistance of reproductive technology, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- “We should be amazed and worried by the finding,” Prof. Hagai Levine of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who co-led the peer-reviewed study, told The Times of Israel. “The decline is both very real and appears to be accelerating.”
- The causes of the trend are unknown, but Levine pointed to known linkages between lower sperm counts and factors like widespread obesity, sedentary lifestyles, smoking and exposure to certain chemicals.
- Male fertility experts agreed the study was methodologically sound and concerning, though some questioned the certainty of the trend line given that methods of counting sperm have changed over the years.
THE BIG PICTURE
“What’s happening to men physically dovetails with a broader story of social transformation,” demographer Neil Howe wrote in a 2017 Forbes essay about research showing declining testosterone levels among American men.
- “The economy is shifting away from jobs that favor men, like manufacturing, and toward sectors dominated by women. Young men have fallen behind women in educational attainment. They’re increasingly dropping out of the workforce and expressing less work centrality. The anxiety over the state of men mirrors a bigger debate over America’s national identity.”
- Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson also cited declining testosterone levels in promoting “testicle tanning” earlier this year.