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Is Egg-Freezing Really the Best Thing for Women?

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Sean Molin Photography CC

Alana Newman - published on 06/02/14

There's got to be a better way.

I’m at a coffee shop in New Orleans. Next to me, a table of women discuss business and funding solutions. Ten feet away, my thirty-something barista chats with a male customer about video game strategies. In the bathroom is a large fish bowl of free condoms in a variety of colors. On the bulletin board is an ad soliciting full-time activists: “Oppose attacks on healthcare access. Expand reproductive rights. Keep birth control affordable.”

Contraception is touted as a necessity for my demographic, but I came to this coffee shop to write about how more and more women are resorting to reproductive technologies because of the difficulty they face in trying to start a family before menopause. Women now pay tens of thousands of dollars to inject themselves with hormones in a procedure called oocyte cryopreservation, or “egg freezing,” so that they might be able to have biological children when they are forty, forty-five, or fifty-plus years old.

In April, a feature story titled “Freeze Your Eggs, Free Your Career” made the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek.  “Not since the birth control pill has a medical technology had such potential to change family and career planning,” wrote author Emma Rosenblum. She continues:

Imagine a world in which life isn’t dictated by a biological clock. If a twenty-five-year-old banks her eggs and, at thirty-five, is up for a huge promotion, she can go for it wholeheartedly without worrying about missing out on having a baby. She can also hold out for the man or woman of her dreams. Doctors hope that within the next thirty years the procedure will become a routine part of women’s health, and generous would-be grandparents will cover it as they would a first-mortgage down payment.

Rosenblum is right when she asserts that dramatic changes in family and career planning were brought on by the pill. But are women really happier now because of them

The New Rules of Mating

Economics professor, Harvard alum, and mother, Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, co-authored a paper titled “
The New Battle of the Sexes: A 2 x 2 Theory of the Happiness Gender Gap
.” In her report she utilizes game theory to comment on recent research around the 
paradox of declining female happiness
, suggesting that the pill has disadvantaged women in the mating game.

Pakaluk observes that men desire sex much more than women, while women have a much stronger desire for children. Sure, women want sex too, and men want babies, but whether due to socialization or biology, the reality is that women prioritize creating a family more often than men, and often earlier. In her report, she writes, “Women are at risk of being alienated from their maximum [happiness] payoffs in the presence of any technology which makes it easier to ‘un-bundle’ the joint-production of sex and children . . .”

When sex and procreation were tightly connected pre-pill, men usually had to yield to female sexual preferences, at least going through the motions of commitment in order to find a willing partner. What the pill has ultimately achieved is a lowering of the price of sex to the point that men barely need to buy women dinner for access. Sex, which women used to leverage in pursuit of family and children, is no longer scarce.

Today, women must navigate an environment where they cannot risk being vulnerable (an inherent condition of motherhood) because they lack the assurance that their partners, family, or community will be there to support them.

In such a climate, it does seem logical for women to postpone motherhood until they are able to perform (or hire someone else to perform) all the roles required to raise healthy, happy children. The drive to succeed exhibited by many career women is not solely about making their parents proud and proving how smart they are. In many cases, women want professional success so that their standard of living and the opportunities for their children are not contingent on the whims of others—whether fathers, extended family, or the community at large are willing to provide.

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