Elective egg freezing and its underlying socio-demography: A binational analysis with global implications

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Abstract

Background: What are the underlying socio-demographic factors that lead healthy women to preserve their fertility through elective egg freezing (EEF)? Many recent reviews suggest that women are intentionally postponing fertility through EEF to pursue careers and achieve reproductive autonomy. However, emerging empirical evidence suggests that women may be resorting to EEF for other reasons, primarily the lack of a partner with whom to pursue childbearing. The aim of this study is thus to understand what socio-demographic factors may underlie women's use of EEF. Methods: A binational qualitative study was conducted from June 2014 to August 2016 to assess the socio-demographic characteristics and life circumstances of 150 healthy women who had undertaken at least one cycle of elective egg freezing (EEF) in the United States and Israel, two countries where EEF has been offered in IVF clinics over the past 7-8years. One hundred fourteen American women who completed EEF were recruited from 4 IVF clinics in the US (2 academic, 2 private) and 36 women from 3 IVF clinics in Israel (1 academic, 2 private). In-depth, audio-recorded interviews lasting from 0.5 to 2h were undertaken and later transcribed verbatim for qualitative data analysis. Results: Women in both countries were educated professionals (100%), and 85% undertook EEF because they lacked a partner. This "lack of a partner" problem was reflected in women's own assessments of why they were single in their late 30s, despite their desires for marriage and childbearing. Women themselves assessed partnership problems from four perspectives: 1) women's higher expectations; 2) men's lower commitments; 3) skewed gender demography; and 4) self-blame. Discussion: The "lack of a partner" problem reflects growing, but little discussed international socio-demographic disparities in educational achievement. University-educated women now significantly outnumber university-educated men in the US, Israel, and nearly 75 other societies around the globe, according to World Bank data. Thus, educated women increasingly face a deficit of educated men with whom to pursue childbearing. Conclusion: Among healthy women, EEF is a technological concession to gender-based socio-demographic disparities, which leave many highly educated women without partners during their prime childbearing years. This information is important for reproductive specialists who counsel single EEF patients, and for future research on EEF in diverse national settings.

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Inhorn, M. C., Birenbaum-Carmeli, D., Birger, J., Westphal, L. M., Doyle, J., Gleicher, N., … Patrizio, P. (2018). Elective egg freezing and its underlying socio-demography: A binational analysis with global implications. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12958-018-0389-z

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