Freezing eggs to delay having children

The period in their twenties and thirties is where men and women establish their career paths and this often requires hard work and long hours. But women have to negotiate an especially tricky path because this is also the peak childbearing years and they have to face hard choices about what to do. Should they short-change their careers to better care for their children? Keep on the career path and forego having children or feel guilty about leaving the care of their children in the hands of others? Try to do both and end up exhausted and feeling a failure at both? Even with the most supportive partner, women still bear the brunt of this problem.

This is particularly true for academia where by the time you get your PhD and land a tenure track job, you are often already in your thirties. Then you have the grueling pre-tenure period of six years where you have to prove your worth to get tenure and that involves a lot of really hard work. By the time you get tenure and feel secure, you may well be approaching the age of forty, but the risks of problems with pregnancy increase substantially after the woman is 35.

It is essential that institutions change to accommodate this and some universities are trying to deal with this. My own gives female and male faculty a year off if they become parents and the tenure clock is stopped for that time, which helps.

But some tech companies, rather that trying to change their practices, are offering to pay women to freeze their eggs while they are young, so that they can have children at a later age when their careers are more established. This has not been met with universal approval because it seems like it increases pressure on women at those firms to prioritize work.

It seems to me that this kind of technological fix to having children late in life should be a last resort. For one thing, the career treadmill never really ends and it is never clear when one should get off. Also, having children while young has other benefits than women being able to supply pristine eggs. When you have children while you yourself are young, they can become adult and self-supporting before you reach old age. I am glad that my children are now adults and do not really need me anymore.

What we need is to create work and social structures that are friendlier to families, such as generous maternity and parental leave, on-site day care facilities, and cheaper high-quality child care, so that women and men are not faced with such wrenching choices.


  1. Karen Locke says

    If you get your employees to freeze their eggs and put off having children until their 40s, you can then concoct some excuse for laying them off after you’ve gotten maximum use from them and their salaries have risen to something significant. Then you can replace them (quietly, of course) with young people who will work long hours for much less. What a win for the company!

    Yes, I’m being awfully cynical, and perhaps most companies wouldn’t do that. But I’ve lived in Silicon Valley all my adult life and worked in the tech industry for over 2 decades. I know of some companies that might at least consider the strategy.

  2. dean says

    The other issue, of course, is to continue to work against the notion that married couples SHOULD have children. Quite often couples who choose not to have children are viewed differently – selfish, foolish, or just strange.
    I can speak locally – some of it here in West Michigan is based in religion: the belief that God wants you to have children. Some in this group have begun speaking of mounting a campaign to have couples (couples who wish to marry) publicly declare their commitment to marriage and having children as a prerequisite for being allowed to marry. It will go nowhere, of course, and is designed as an attempt to thwart same sex marriage, but a few of those pushing it believe it really is a good idea because “if you’re married and don’t have children you are using benefits that belong to families”.
    So maybe the entire discussion should center on whether the default assumption about people who wish to marry should
    move away from the notion that they will eventually have children to “If they make that decision, what support system should business and the state have in place?”

    Better yet: realize that two people have children, or adopt, or don’t want children, should not be the business of anyone other than them and the people they wish to include, and work on having a good safety net for everyone, whenever and wherever one is needed.

    None of this rant was aimed at Dr. Singham or the poster @1.

  3. Hazelwood says

    I’m not convinced that it is a career that is really responsible for the delay in childbearing as the US, which has fairy atrocious conditions for working mothers, has a much lower age at which the average woman will have her first child than those who do in fact have supportive arrangements such as the UK. It seems that strong social support networks for women actually delay child bearing and the number of children.

    Anecdotally, amongst my group of late breeders (common in my socio-economic group) was that it was either simply not wanting to take on the significant obligations and restraints that come with motherhood until much later and/or simply not having yet acquired a partner with which to do so until later.

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