For all the cutting-edge companies using egg freezing as an employee benefit to lure career-minded women, it turns out their efforts may be for naught.
Women who freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons choose to use the expensive, invasive, emotionally fraught procedure because they haven’t found the right partner yet, not because they want to put career before family, according to a small study from the UK that was recently submitted to Sociological Research Online.
Kylie Baldwin, the sociologist at the UK’s De Montfort University who conducted the research, interviewed 31 women from the UK, US and Norway, all between the ages of 32 and 44. Presenting her findings at the British Science Festival last week, she emphasized that the women she spoke to were waiting to connect with a specific sort of male partner: someone who would be “hands on” and “would share the role of upbringing, the pleasures and pains of upbringing, equally.” Beyond looking for “Mr. Right,” women are looking are looking for ”Mr. Emotionally Involved,” Baldwin told Quartz.
Several subjects told Baldwin about relationships that had collapsed because a partner or husband wouldn’t commit to having kids. A few interviewees also said that concerns about an underlying health issue, their job security, or housing, contributed to their decision to freeze their eggs, but the overwhelming focus was on missing partners.
The procedure, initially marketed to women with medical conditions such as cancer, has since become popular among women concerned about their fertility declining with age.
But experts worry about women using the procedure too casually, and investing false hope in the technology. The ideal time for a woman to freeze her eggs, fertility specialists say, is when she’s young (before her mid-30s). In the UK, a controversial 10-year limit (pdf) on storing eggs means that women who freeze eggs earlier in life might not have access to them at a later age when they need them. In the US, where there is no time limit on egg storage, women in their late thirties are spending tens of thousands of dollars on egg retrieval and hundreds of dollars per year to store their eggs, without knowing whether more mature eggs respond as well to freezing.
Companies that cover the procedure may unwittingly put undue pressure on women to delay childbearing in favor of advancing their careers. A better approach would be to offer the maternity benefits, job security, and pay needed for women to have children earlier in their career. Allowing women the work-life balance needed to find the right partner might also help.