The slippery landscape of egg freezing as an employee benefit
In developed markets globally, more and more women are delaying having children. Where women can afford it, many are choosing to freeze their eggs through a process called elective freezing (EF) or social egg freezing (SEF). In the UK, there was a 240% increase in EF between 2013 and 2018. In the US, the percentage increase 2009 – 2018 was 2,695%
During the period 1997–2016, the numbers of recorded assisted reproductive treatments increased considerably (5.3-fold in Europe, 4.6-fold in the USA, 3.0-fold in Australia and New Zealand)
Elective egg freezing is also on the rise. In the UK, there was a 240% increase in between 2013 and 2018. In the US, between 2009 – 2018 the increase was 2,695%. The methods of data collection and reporting are very different among European countries, as such the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) states that there is considerable degree of underreporting of treatments in Europe.
Most of these women are in their mid-late 30s, single, university educated, and in professional employment.
All the data suggests that this trend is on the rise.
What if you could freeze your eggs for 55 years?
With changes in technology, the amount of time that eggs can be frozen is increasing. In the UK, the government intends to change the law to increase the statutory storage limits for gametes and embryos for everyone to a maximum limit of 55 years.
Exploitation or empowerment?
Some bioethicists argue that egg freezing will “emancipate” women by enabling them to achieve reproductive parity with men. Common marketing narratives centre around “taking control of your biological clock”. Egg freezing is seen as an insurance policy to mitigate the risk of not being able to spontaneously conceive in the future.
But for many, egg freezing is a lottery ticket, which never gets cashed. As the Nuffield Council of Bioethics notes “Long-term data on the proportion of women who return to use their eggs are lacking because EF is still a relatively new……However, to date, most women have not returned to use eggs frozen for both social and other reasons”
Workplace equality or further discrimination?
As of 2020, more than two-fifths (42%) of large U.S. employers — those with over 20,000 staff — offered coverage for fertility treatment. SEF as an employment benefit might be seen as a workplace ‘gender equaliser’ that could have a positive effect on women’s salaries. However, it has also been described as both a bribe for the ‘best years’ of a woman’s life, a cynical move by employers, and a benefit that is unlikely to extend to low-wage workers.
Egg freezing is not a neutral technology and more insights are needed on this fast-changing space.
In partnership with female talent champions, 3Plus International, I am conducting some research on employer policies and attitudes towards women freezing their eggs.
If you are an HR professional, we would love to hear what you think about the issue. What are you doing today? Are you prepared for the future?
You can complete a 15 question (circa 10 mins) survey here, results will be shared with everyone who wants to receive them