It’s Not What You May Think
In 2014, Facebook and Apple began offering egg freezing as an employee benefit. Many other high-tech companies followed suit in the following years, as well as companies in banking, consulting firms, law firms and others with stiff competition for top candidates. The assumption was that egg freezing was an appealing benefit because it allowed young women to postpone starting a family and focus on their careers, while preserving the ability to have a family later. In 2020, more than 13,000 women froze their eggs, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), versus 2,500 in 2012.
Concern for their careers is one reason young women freeze their eggs. But recent studies have found the major factor is not having a partner, or having a partner who doesn’t want to have children.
Buying Time to Find a Partner
Researchers at New York University’s Fertility Center at NYU Langone Medical Center surveyed 183 patients at their center who had their eggs frozen, to find out why they undertook this procedure. They found that 80 percent said the primary reason they hadn’t started a family was that they didn’t have a partner. Another study of 150 patients in the USA and Israel came to a similar conclusion. The majority either didn’t have a partner or had a partner who did not want to start a family, while the next largest group was divorced or had recently gone through a breakup. A smaller group of patients were facing military deployment and felt it was safer to freeze their eggs before deploying.
In the NYU survey 24 percent of patients reported they were delaying childbearing for professional reasons. And 15 percent cited financial reasons for postponing starting a family. But the greatest reason for delaying their family in both surveys was lack of an appropriate partner who wanted to have a family.
Keeping Their Options Open
Egg freezing allows young women who don’t have partners to preserve their eggs for use when they are older. The age of the egg matters more than the age of the woman who wants to bear a child. Older women who use donor eggs from younger women get pregnant and deliver healthy babies at the same rate as younger women using their own eggs. So, oocyte preservation (the medical name for egg freezing) can help a woman save her fertility for the time when she meets an appropriate partner or decides to go ahead and build a family on her own. Women should be aware that, in addition to the cost of egg freezing, they will have to pay for storage of the frozen eggs, and that they will need IVF to use the eggs.
Egg freezing is no longer an experimental procedure, but it is still relatively new. Very few women have thawed eggs and used them in IVF, and success rates are not measured by SART. More studies are needed, but the results so far are promising.
A recently published study analyzed 15 years of data from more than 500 patients who had eggs frozen at the NYU Langone Fertility Center, finding that the overall chance of a live birth from the frozen eggs was 39 percent. The data showed that many women did not get pregnant because of the age they were when they froze their eggs or because they were unable to produce enough viable eggs. Among women who were younger than 38 the live birth rate was 51 percent; it rose to 70 percent among women younger than 38 if they also thawed 20 or more eggs.
What This Means for Companies
Family building benefits are becoming more and more crucial for companies who hope to attract and retain skilled employees in a competitive marketplace. Egg freezing can provide an advantage in recruitment and retention, both by giving your employees flexibility and control over their fertility and by demonstrating that your company truly cares about their hopes and dreams for the future.