TREND: THE FERTILITY BOOM
As both women and men take ownership of their reproductive health, reproductive assistance, once deemed a luxury, is becoming a crucial part of healthcare.
By Rina Raphael
In the past few years, what was once hushed about in doctors’ offices is now openly discussed. Fertility has entered the mainstream conversation as numerous celebrities—Chrissy Teigen, Kim Kardashian, even Mark Zuckerberg—publicly share their struggles. And it’s grown into a formidable femtech sector, empowering individuals to take charge of their reproductive health.
It’s part of a bigger trend: Women, long underrepresented in medical research and excluded from clinical trials, are increasingly taking ownership of their bodies. They demand more information, more studies and, therefore, more innovation. At its current 8.5 percent annual growth, the global fertility services market is expected to grow to $36 billion by 2023, according to a Market Research Future report.
Fertility is of utmost importance in light of sobering stats. Highly industrialized countries, such as England, Japan and the US, continue to see record-low fertility rates. This stems from a number of reasons, including women of childbearing age delaying having children (or not at all), as well as the continual deterioration of male sperm quality.
Plenty of countries also inadvertently incentivize delaying motherhood; In the US, for example, women who reproduce before age 35 never see their pay recover relative to that of their partners. As such, the majority of new moms in the US are over 30, inevitably increasing the need for medical intervention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 12 percent of American women of reproductive age now seek fertility treatments.
Society is rethinking reproductive assistance: It’s no longer considered a luxury but a crucial part of healthcare.
Silicon Valley is at the center of this trend: A new generation of start-ups tout digital platforms, wearables, apps and modernized clinics to address fertility issues. This spans community support networks such as Peanut Trying to Conceive and the Tinder-like sperm donor matching app Just A Baby. There are even meditation platforms such as Expectful (featured image above) to regulate women’s anxiety and stress, which studies show can affect the ability to conceive.
In 2013, PayPal Co-Founder Max Levchin founded Glow, a female fertility tracking app dubbed “Fitbit for your period.” The high-profile launch paved the way for companies such as Ava and OvaCue to sell ovulation trackers and ovarian reserve tests. Menstrual trackers, like Clue (founded in 2012 with 12 million users worldwide), are now one of the most popular health categories in the App Store.
These palm-size monitors and bracelets measure different physiological signals to predict ovulation windows. (On average, they can detect fertile days at 89 percent accuracy.) Trackers will become more popular as big wearable companies offer such features. More recently, Fitbit introduced fertility tracking on its newest device.
Mira is one company bringing affordable, laboratory-grade testing into people’s homes. It sells an AI-enabled device that pairs with a smartphone app to measure levels of Luteinizing hormone in urine for a more accurate insight into one’s fertility.
“The consumer is looking for something really easy,” says Mira CEO and Co-Founder Sylvia Kang, a former biomedical engineer. “No one wants to take so much time to learn about a product they hopefully only use for a few months.”
Education, comfort and simplicity lie at the heart of many products. Natalist is a monthly delivery box filled with sleek conception essentials for those just starting to consider pregnancy. New Hope Fertility released an at-home IVF kit, which allows women to privately prepare for the egg-retrieval process.
Modern Fertility sells finger-prick tests that gauge reproductive hormones. The female-led start-up also hosts educational seminars called “hormone lunches” at a number of high-profile companies such as Reddit and Slack. It’s reframing fertility as a marker of general health: In the past, women often only examined their fertility when trying to have a family or dealing with a reproductive issue. Modern Fertility encourages consumers to be as proactive about reproductive health as other areas of their wellbeing. That means starting the conversation at a younger age.
“The way that we can make the largest impact is by giving women resources and tools earlier,” stresses Modern Fertility CoFounder and CEO Afton Vechery.
It’s not just women pushed to take action; men are also encouraged to improve their reproductive health. The last year saw an influx of products that measure, track and store male sperm in an effort to curb failing sperm health. A recent Hebrew University of Jerusalem study found that sperm counts among Western men declined by 52 percent in the past 40 years. One-third of all infertility cases are caused by male reproductive issues.
Companies such as YO, SpermCheck and Trak sell discreet at-home sperm health tests. Trak also includes an educational platform to give men actionable ways to improve their sperm quality. Other start-ups, such as Dadi, offer a sperm storage kit for individuals who want to put off having a family. Their tagline reads: “Men have a biological clock too. It’s time to freeze that seed.”
Forecasting the Future
- Headlines proclaim the boom in VC funding for fertility-tech companies, from $10 billion a dozen years ago to $27 billion today (CB Insights data). Though 2019 may have been a record year, with $150 million invested in new companies, that’s still peanuts compared with the dramatic need for solutions. The fertility solutions market is in its earliest stages.
- More governments will pay for pricey in vitro fertilization (IVF) and assisted reproductive technology (ART), desperate to turn around their unprecedented birthrate declines. For instance, Singapore just upped the cash grants for IVF and ART, with new public housing and preschool subsidies. Hungary just announced free IVF treatments for all. Governments will increasingly support evidence-based fertility solutions from the medical, tech and wellness arenas.
- Fertility has long been seen as a woman’s fault and burden, but that says as much about our sexist culture as it does about science, as one-third of fertility failures relate to a problem exclusively with the man. Men today are about half as fertile as their fathers were, and start-ups focusing on sperm testing and storage are growing fast. Harvard-incubated, Geneva-based Legacy offers at-home sperm-testing kits and sperm storage in Swiss nuclear bunkers. Young men are surprisingly big customers, as science shows men’s fertility also has a biological clock.
This is an excerpt from the “The Fertility Boom” trend in the 2020 Global Wellness Trends Report.