Sperm donors don't get the credit they deserve
Progress Educational Trust31 May 2007
The comparative study, carried out at the University of California, Los Angeles, indicates that striking inequalities are perpetuated by gender-stereotyped social attitudes to motherhood and the female role in the procreative process, over counterpart concepts of men and fatherhood. Ms Almeling's findings will be published in the June issue of the American Sociological Review. It is thought to be the first comprehensive study comparing US gender compensation rates for gamete donation.
In the US women in major cities on average are paid upwards of ?2,500 for their egg donation, regardless of the resulting quality or egg extraction success. Male donors in contrast receive an average ?25 to ?38, and only if the sample meets the high sperm count quality-control standard.
Despite commonly held views that an egg donor scarcity and sperm donor abundance exist, the current situation is actually the reverse. Potential US egg donors outnumber recipients but only a fraction of the male population have a reliably high enough sperm count to meet donation standards and 90 per cent of potential sperm donors are rejected. Supply-demand economics would therefore predict the large number of potential egg donors to reduce their payment, and the sperm donor scarcity to increase their rates, but the market for gametes has defied basic economics. Almeling suggests that American, middle-class cultural norms and the devalued male role in reproduction and parenthood warps standard market trends to reflect these social views.
Egg donation is more invasive and bears statistically low but serious risks that sperm donation lacks. However, Almeling argues that these medical differences alone are insufficient to account for the 'pronounced double-standard', saying 'Men donors are paid less for a much longer time commitment and a great deal of personal inconvenience'. Sperm donors often sign a year contract to donate weekly and are asked to abstain from intercourse for two days before donating to avoid their sperm count being too low for payment. Egg donors also abstain from intercourse but only for the six weeks of daily hormone therapy before their commitment ends.
Almeling's interviews revealed that reproductive health workers treat male and female donors differently, creating very different donation experiences. Women are reminded and thanked for their generous 'gift of life'. Sperm donors are appreciated but with a more perfunctory attitude that they are getting paid for something they would do anyway. They are not made to feel as though they have done something special for others. Recipient couples are often encouraged to write cards or give cash bonuses and gifts of gratitude to egg donors but not to sperm donors. Almeling appears to have uncovered an unexpected bias in the fertility industry.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.