By Claire Zillman
July 7, 2017

When companies like Facebook and Apple said in 2014 that they would start covering the cost of egg freezing for women, the backlash was swift.

As Fortune‘s Leigh Gallagher reported at the time, critics derided the new benefit as “a self-serving move to encourage women to take their eye off the biological clock so that they could double down and work harder throughout their 30s. It was paternalistic, sexist, and a trick to keep women childless and living at the office, all wrapped in the cloak of concern over women’s fertility issues.”

But a new study of 150 women who had undertaken elective egg freezing in the United States and Israel found that more than 90% said they were not intentionally postponing their fertility because of education or careers. Rather, they were preserving their fertility because they were single without partners to marry. Women lamented the “missing men” in their lives, viewing egg freezing as a way to buy time while they continued to search for a committed partner.

“[T]here’s been this narrative that career women are putting off having children for the sake of their careers,” Marcia Inhorn, the study’s lead author and a professor of anthropology and international affairs at Yale University, told me. That’s incorrect, she says. “They want to be married or at least partnered [before having a child] and they haven’t been able to find anyone.” Inhorn’s unpublished study was presented at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Geneva this week.

Women in the study were highly educated, with more than 80% having earned at least a graduate degree. Their failure to find a partner, Inhorn surmises, points to the “lopsided college graduation rate,” in which more women are graduating from college and advanced degree programs than men.

A 2017 report from the National Center for Education Statistics found that since 2000, degree attainment rates among 25- to 29-year-olds have generally been higher for females than for males at each education level.

One way to resolve this mismatch is to “get boys off to a better start” so more of them obtain higher education, Inhorn says. But a more comprehensive solution may be to update gender roles and what’s expected of each sex across the board.

@clairezillman

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