Story: Infertility and childlessness

Being childless is a deliberate choice for some people, but for others it is involuntary, and the cause of heartbreak. Fertility treatments such as in-vitro fertilisation and donor insemination, or surrogacy and adoption, can give heterosexual infertile couples or individuals the opportunity to have children. These technologies can also be used by lesbian, gay, and gender-diverse couples and individuals who want to become parents.

Story by Rhonda Shaw
Main image: Dr Mary Birdsall and laboratory technician Adam Nancekivel of Fertility Associates

Story summary

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Infertile people cannot have children. Infertility can be biological or social. Biological or medical infertility may be caused by physical conditions such as a low sperm count or a hormonal imbalance. Social infertility is an outcome of life chances and circumstance. The fertility of both women and men drops as they age. Women are most fertile between 19 and 25.

Voluntary childlessness

Some people choose not to have children. Others who would like to have children do not because of their circumstances, for example not having a partner or not feeling they have enough money. Voluntary childlessness is increasingly common.

Fertility treatments

The introduction of assisted reproductive technologies in the early 1980s meant that some infertile people were able to have children. Treatments include insemination using donor sperm and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), where eggs are fertilised in a laboratory and then transferred into a woman’s womb.

Eligibility and cost

People in New Zealand can have up to two fertility treatments paid for by the government if they meet certain criteria. They can also pay to have treatment and the costs vary with treatment options. One cycle of IVF at a private provider cost between $11,000 and $13,000 in 2017. 


Surrogacy is a form of reproductive assistance that involves a woman carrying a baby in her womb for another couple or individual. The child may be the surrogate’s genetic child (from the father’s sperm), or could be from a fertilised egg implanted through IVF. In New Zealand, surrogate mothers cannot be paid beyond reimbursement for 'reasonable and necessary expenses' (Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Act 2004, section 14(4)).


The Human Assisted Reproduction Act 2004 governs fertility treatments, and new procedures have to be approved by the Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ACART) before they can be offered by fertility clinics.

How to cite this page:

Rhonda Shaw, 'Infertility and childlessness', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 1 October 2023)

Story by Rhonda Shaw, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 29 Jan 2018