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Italian Male Fertility Plummets, Population to Drop

Last updated: August 6, 2023

The number of active sperm in Italian men appears to have halved since the 1970s. Italy’s population is expected to drop 22 percent by 2050.

Italian Male Fertility Plummets, Population to Drop

30-Second Summary

During the 1970s, Italian men averaged 71 million spermatoza per millimeter. But today, they average 60 million, according to a study of 10,000 healthy men conducted by Fabrizio Menchini Fabris of Pisa University.

Fabris also found that today, fewer than 30 percent of the sperm are “active” in Italian men, while 50 percent were active in the 1970s. Taken together, these number mean that Italian men today have 50 percent fewer active sperm than they did thirty years ago.

Geography and environmental factors figured largely in the study. Men who reside in bigger cities or agricultural locations where the use of pesticides is common had 20 percent less mobile sperm than smaller town and village dwellers, with “15 percent more defective spermatozoa,” according to an article in Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera.

Some experts attribute the diminishing sperm count to pollution and environmental factors such as “illegal dumps, pesticide use and smog,” writes the Corriere Della Sera. The article also highlights the findings of Paolo Mocarelli of Milano Bicocca University, who “has demonstrated the direct link between exposure to dioxin and falling sperm counts in man.”

The issue of declining global sperm rates began to garner public attention in the early 1990s, when Danish doctor Niels Skakkebaek said that worldwide sperm counts had dropped by one percent a year since 1930.

Numerous recent studies have dealt with the issue. One study found a correlation between soya products and declining sperm counts. In March 2007, researchers connected lower sperm counts to children born from parents who ate a lot of beef during pregnancy. Even cell phones have been studied as a potential risk to the male reproductive system. Italy’s birth rate of 1.2 is well below the “replacement rate” of 2.1 children per woman. Italy’s native population is expected to drop 22 percent by 2050.

Headline Links: Lower sperm counts in Italians

Italy’s newspaper Corriere Della Sera reveals the trend: “Sperm counts in Italian men have dropped from 71 million spermatozoa per milliliter in the 1970s to 60 million today. Thirty years ago, one out of two spermatozoa was active; today less than 30 percent are.” Fabrizio Menchini Fabris of Pisa University studied 10,000 “healthy young men” and discovered regional variations. Men in Puglia, Sicily and Tuscany scored higher than those from Lazio, Lombardy and Veneto. Experts associate the lower sperm counts with the higher levels of environmental pollution found in cities, and Paolo Mocarelli of Milano Bicocca University points to dioxin in particular as a culprit. The Italian Society for Male Health will discuss the issue of diminishing sperm counts at its annual conference in September.

Source: Corriere Della Sera

Paolo Mocarelli’s study of the sperm counts of 135 men who were exposed to dioxins from a 1976 chemical factory explosion in Seveso, Italy, was published in the Environmental Health Perspective journal in January 2008. The study found that men who were under the age of 9 when they were exposed now have sperm counts that are 50 percent lower than men in certain areas that were not affected by the dioxin.

Source: Environmental Health Perspectives

Background: A global trend?

An article from asks the question: “Are men facing extinction?” Danish doctor Niels Skakkebaek first sounded the alarm in 1992, when he claimed that global sperm counts had fallen by one percent a year since 1930. Although other studies resulted in conflicting findings, scientists eventually looked to environmental conditions to explain the geographical differences. In the end they focused on chemicals known as xeno-estrogens, “found in shrink-wrap, pesticides, herbicides, solvents and some drugs” that “mimic” estrogen.


A 2006 article from Slate presents a theory explaining the falling rates of teen pregnancy since 1990. What if there’s an explanation “that has nothing to do with just-say-no campaigns or safe-sex educational posters? What if teenagers are less fertile than they used to be? Not the girls—the boys?” asks the article. Many studies have indicated that environmental factors are the main culprits. “There is no government-sponsored effort to track male fertility rates, even though male-factor problems account for half of all infertility.”

Source: Slate

On Yale Global Online, a director in the population division of the United Nations discusses the issue of low birth rates around the world, and 7 categories of policy responses. While cash bonuses and other incentives have been modestly successful, the writer says that increasing birth rates over the long term is an uphill battle.

Source: Yale Global

In an August 1999 article in The Atlantic Monthly, Max Singer of The Hudson Institute discusses “The Population Surprise.” He attributes declining birth rates to changing values caused by modernity. Any population predictions must consider changes in human values, which he calls “the unfathomable variable.”

Source: Atlantic Monthly

Related Topics: Recent studies on sperm count

Soya products

An October 2007 article from New Scientist reports on a study linking the consumption of soya, from food and drink like tofu, tempeh and soya milk, to lower sperm count. The study found that men who eat half a serving of soya a day had about 40 percent “less than the typical sperm count of men who do not eat such foods,” according to New Scientist. However, earlier studies did not find such a connection, and Jorge Chavarro of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Mass., who conducted the study, admits that overweight participants may have accounted for some of the results.

Source: New Scientist

Beef and pregnancy

A Seattle Times article from March 28, 2007, described a study claiming “Sons born to women who ate a lot of beef during their pregnancy have a 25 percent below-normal sperm count and three times the normal risk of fertility problems.” The results may be attributed to anabolic steroids used to fatten cattle, pesticides or other environmental factors, according to Shanna Swan of the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Source: Seattle Times

Cell phones

MSNC reported on Feb. 6, 2008, that a study conducted in Cleveland correlated more time spent talking on cell phones with decreased sperm count in men and an increased number of “abnormal” sperm. According to MSNBC, “The concern is that, over time, the electromagnetic energy emitted from mobile phones could theoretically harm body tissue—by damaging DNA, for example.” However, the article says that more research is needed to explore the connection.

Source: MSNBC

Reference: Help for fertility issues

A Web guide from findingDulcinea provides information on the causes of infertility, fertility tests, treatment, support and current research.

Source: findingDulcinea

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