Surging house prices combined with radical social and demographic change are posing a serious threat to the fertility of Generation Y, demographer and social researcher Mark McCrindle has told a packed audience at this week’s UNSW Medicine Dean’s Lecture.

“This generation can expect to pay up to 10 times the average annual full time earnings for a house in Sydney, double the 1975 cost in real terms, causing many couples to delay having children while they save to purchase a property,” McCrindle said.

“In their lifetime, this generation can expect to live in 15 different homes located in a range of communities and work in 17 jobs across five distinct careers.

“This constant change and instability is posing a further threat to fertility.”

Head of the UNSW School of Women’s and Children’s Health, Professor Bill Ledger, said women’s fertility was not evolving at pace with social change, causing many women to discover too late that there was little IVF could do to help them.

“The average age of women at birth is arresting but it’s not showing signs of reversing.”

As women get older, the chance of a live birth goes down and chance of miscarriage or other problems increases,” Ledger told the audience.

“I advise people to settle down with a partner young enough that they have some fertile years so they have a chance to have children.

“When you get older, children matter more than having houses and cars and money in the bank.”

Professor Ledger said research underway at UNSW could revolutionise assisted reproduction. It includes the development of a new biomarker that predicts egg quality rather than quantity, enabling women to understand their infertility risk.

Another team is working on a new dietary supplement to promote fertility by boosting levels of sirtuins, proteins that are key determinants of the quality of the oocyte (egg).

Professor Ledger also discussed the increased success rates of egg freezing for young patients before potentially sterilising cancer treatment.

The School recently launched the Future Fertility Study, which will examine fertility outcomes of all new cancer patients under 40 in Australia and New Zealand to provide new information on risk and how psychosocial factors and economics affect the likelihood of having a baby.

UNSW Medicine is also joining the Royal Hospital for Women, Prince of Wales Hospital and Sydney Children’s Hospital to establish a centre of excellence in reproductive medicine to improve success rates for couples trying to have a biological child.