When Sociologist Rene Almeling decided to look into the operations of U.S. sperm banks and egg agencies, the UCLA Ph.D. candidate in sociology thought she knew what she would find.
She figured that any discrepancies in compensation rates for the building blocks of assisted reproduction could be explained by either market forces or the biological differences between female egg donors, who must undergo hormone therapy and outpatient surgery, and their male counterparts, who, as one recruitment ad put it, ?get paid to do what you already do.?
Instead, Almeling, whose findings appear in the June issue of the American Sociological Review, uncovered a topsy-turvy market that often defies not just conventional wisdom but also the basic law of supply and demand.
?Men donors are paid less for a much longer time commitment and a great deal of personal inconvenience,? she said. ?They also are much less prepared for the emotional consequences of serving as a donor of reproductive material. Women, meanwhile, are not only paid more for a much shorter time commitment, they are repeatedly thanked for ?giving the gift of life.?
?From compensation rates to the smallest details of donor relations, sperm donors are less valued than egg donors,? Almeling said. ?Egg donors are treated like gold, while sperm donors are perceived as a dime a dozen.?
The inequities persist despite the fact that profiles of hundreds of potential egg donors languish on agency Web sites, far outstripping recipient demand, while suitable sperm donors are quite rare, Almeling found. In fact, only a tiny fraction of the male population possesses a sperm count consistently high enough to be considered donation-worthy, and more than 90 percent of sperm bank applicants are rejected for this and other reasons. As a result, sperm banks routinely resort to finder?s fees to meet the need.
?A pronounced double-standard exists in the way that men and women donors are valued by the fertility industry, and it can?t be explained medically or by market forces,? Almeling said. ?Based on the availability of donors alone, you would expect the abundance of potential egg donors to drive down compensation fees and the scarcity of potential sperm donors to drive up their fees. But I found just the opposite.