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STUDY QUESTION: Does ART impact the secondary sex ratio (SSR) when compared to natural conception? SUMMARY ANSWER: IVF and ICSI as well as the stage of embryo transfer does impact the overall SSR. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: The World Health Organization quotes SSR for natural conception to range between 103 and 110 males per 100 female births. STUDY DESIGN SIZE DURATION: A total of 1 376 454 ART cycles were identified, of which 1 002 698 (72.8%) cycles involved IVF or ICSI. Of these, 863 859 (85.2%) were fresh cycles and 124 654 (12.4%) were frozen cycles. Missing data were identified in 14 185 (1.4%) cycles. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS SETTING METHODS: All cycles recorded in the anonymized UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) registry database between 1991 and 2016 were analysed. All singleton live births were included, and multiple births were excluded to avoid duplication. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: The overall live birth rate per cycle for all IVF and ICSI treatments was 26.2% (n = 262 961), and the singleton live birth rate per cycle was 17.1% (n = 171 399). The overall SSR for this study was 104.0 males per 100 female births (binomial exact 95% CI: 103.1-105.0) for all IVF and ICSI cycles performed in the UK recorded through the HFEA. This was comparable to the overall SSR for England and Wales at 105.3 males per 100 female births (95% CI: 105.2-105.4) from 1991 to 2016 obtained from the Office of National Statistics database. Male predominance was seen with conventional insemination in fresh IVF treatment cycles (SSR 110.0 males per 100 female births; 95% CI: 108.6-111.5) when compared to micro-injection in fresh ICSI treatment cycles (SSR 97.8 males per 100 female births; 95% CI: 96.5-99.2; odds ratio (OR) 1.16, 95% CI 1.12-1.19, P < 0.0001), as well as with blastocyst stage embryo transfers (SSR 104.8 males per 100 female births; 95% CI: 103.5-106.2) when compared to a cleavage stage embryo transfer (SSR 101.2 males per 100 female births; 95% CI: 99.3-103.1; OR 1.03, 95% CI 1.01-1.06, P = 0.011) for all fertilization methods. LIMITATIONS REASONS FOR CAUTION: The quality of the data relies on the reporting system. Furthermore, success rates through ART have improved since 1991, with an increased number of blastocyst stage embryo transfers. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: This is the largest study to date evaluating the impact of ART on SSR. The results demonstrate that, overall, ART does have an impact on the SSR when assessed according to the method of fertilization (ICSI increased female births while IVF increased males). However, given the ratio of IVF to ICSI cycles at present with 60% of cycles from IVF and 40% from ICSI, the overall SSR for ART closely reflects the population SSR for, largely, natural conceptions in England and Wales. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTERESTS: The study received no funding. C.M.B. is a member of the independent data monitoring group for a clinical endometriosis trial by ObsEva. He is on the scientific advisory board for Myovant and medical advisory board for Flo Health. He has received research grants from Bayer AG, MDNA Life Sciences, Volition Rx and Roche Diagnostics as well as from Wellbeing of Women, Medical Research Council UK, the NIH, the UK National Institute for Health Research and the European Union. He is the current Chair of the Endometriosis Guideline Development Group for ESHRE and was a co-opted member of the Endometriosis Guideline Group by the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). I.G. has received research grants from Wellbeing of Women, the European Union and Finox. TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: Not applicable.

Original publication




Journal article


Hum Reprod Open

Publication Date





ART, ICSI, IVF, blastocyst stage transfer, cleavage stage transfer, gender ratio, male subfertility, male to female births, secondary sex ratio